A Columbian evangelical pastor has been shot dead in what is believed to have been a targeted assassination.
Pastor Plinio Rafael Salcedo was discovered shot to death at his home in the village of La Caucana, in the town and municipality of Tarazá, Bajo Cauca Antioquia, a subregion of the Department of Antioquia. He had a wife and two young children.
While the motive behind the attack is not yet fully known, it is thought to be linked to a protest held by many in the Christian community just days earlier — roughly a thousand people from both the Protestants and Catholic denominations had come together to campaign for a renewed peace in their region:
Columbia has been gripped in a bitter civil war for over half a century, with drug cartels, ideologically-driven paramilitaries and government forces warring over vast swathes of the country. Due to their prominent position in rural communities, hundreds of pastors have been targeted for assassination by criminal gangs who want them to say out of their business.
In 2016, the Columbian government signed a peace agreement with a far-left rebel organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). President Juan Manuel Santon received the Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his efforts and insisted that the agreement would bring an end to Columbia’s civil conflict and usher in a new era of peace in the South American nation.
On the day of its signing, Rebel leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, known as Timochenko, declared that the agreement will “definitively end the war and confront our differences in a civilized manner,” according to the Guardian.
Last year, Lorena Rios Cuellar, Director of the Office of Religious Affairs in the Colombian government, highlighted the role of the church in working towards peace and reconciliation.
“Reconstruction of the new Colombia is on the churches shoulders,” Cuellar said at the Global Christian Forum gathering. “So, the church has to understand and take that role very seriously.”
Unfortunately, violence continues to grip the nation, as dissident FARC members continue to wage war and traffick drugs. In July of last year, the Colombian and Peruvian governments launched a massive joint military effort known as “Operation Armageddon,” in order to combat the threat posed by FARC dissidents. Still, the civil conflict rages on.
In this year alone, Christians in the city of Buenaventura have suffered through eight violent attacks against their community, including the smashing up of two churches, a murder, and several instances of threats, extortion, and abuse.
Drug cartels and gangs “see the church as an enemy to be eradicated, because, due to the preaching and courageous action of pastors, many youth have renounced armed conflict and illegal operations,” explained Pastor Harold Arias, leader of the Salvation Door Church, according to Evangelical Focus.
“By preaching the Word of God, the Christian church establishes a direct opposition to the purposes of the armed groups. For this reason, these men were seen as a threat.”
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a religious persecution watchdog, reacted to the news of pastor Salcedo’s death by calling on the Columbian government to investigate the brutal crime and prosecute those responsible.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family of Pastor Plinio Rafael Salcedo,” said CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas in a statement.
“Whilst we welcome the Colombian government’s efforts regarding the peace agreement so far, little has changed for many communities in regions where illegal armed groups continue to operate with impunity. We call on the Colombian government to conduct a full investigation into the murder of the pastor and to bring those responsible to justice. We also urge the government to work with civil society organisations and churches to ensure lasting peace to Colombia.”