By Worthy News Staff
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (Worthy News)-- A Colombian pastor has been shot and killed at his home in front of his wife and church members, the latest in a series of deadly attacks against Christians in the South American nation, Christian rights investigators said Monday, September 14.
Rafael Velasquez, the 41-year-old pastor of the evangelical Foursquare Gospel Church in the town of Maranonal, died instantly following the attack by three masked gunmen last Sunday, September 6, said Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The attack took place after a church service, CSW added. "The armed and masked men broke into Pastor Velasquez’s home and shot him dead in front of his wife and six young members of his church."
Paramilitary groups vying for power in the region are thought to be responsible for the pastor’s murder.
CSW said the situation in Cordoba is part of "a larger pattern of severe violations of religious liberty in Colombia." Over 200 churches have been forcibly closed and more than 35 pastors have been assassinated in different parts of the country during the last three years, CSW told Worthy News.
At least fifteen pastors in the northern Cordoba region have reportedly been threatened over the last six months. Several church leaders "have been forcibly displaced" because of the threats against them and their families, said CSW, which has close contacts with Christians in Colombia.
A new CSW report details what the group calls "systematic religious persecution in areas under the control of armed groups."
CSW’s National Director Stuart Windsor said that his group has urged the European Union and Britain to urge the Colombian government to properly investigate this murder as well as the other threats against church leaders. "We urgently ask the Colombian government to bring those involved in the resurgence of paramilitary activity in Córdoba to justice".