Pope's envoy visits Mexican town rocked by cartel battle

Aguililla (Mexico) (AFP) –


Pope Francis's ambassador to Mexico on Friday visited a Mexican town terrorized by a bloody turf war between rival drug cartels, telling residents they were not forgotten.

Hundreds of faithful lined the streets of Aguililla, a flashpoint in the violence-plagued western state of Michoacan, to greet Franco Coppola, the apostolic nuncio.

"Don't forget us. We have faith in our lord," they implored the Vatican envoy, following gun battles between rival gangs who have laid siege to their community.

On Monday, a suspected member of Jalisco New Generation, one of the country's most powerful cartels, attacked security forces in the town with an explosive-laden drone, wounding two police officers, the government said.

Coppola, who was accompanied by a security team provided by the authorities, spoke with residents to hear about their experiences with cartel violence before officiating mass.

"Please bear witness to what is happening -- the bad guys take advantage of the silence," Coppola told reporters afterward.

He said that the mission of the Catholic Church was "to be close, to be there" when people are abandoned in the face of criminal violence and the indifference of authorities.

More than 300,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since the government deployed the military to fight drug trafficking in 2006, according to authorities, who say most of the killings are linked to gang violence.

Bloodshed has increased ahead of June midterm elections that have brought a wave of murders of politicians at the hands of criminal gangs vying for influence.