Two Catholic priests were found dead on Monday (19 September) after being kidnapped in a Mexican Gulf Coast state ravaged by drugs gang violence.

The pair were abducted on Sunday from a church in an impoverished area in the northern Veracruz city of Poza Rica, said state prosecutors. Their bodies were found dumped in a field by a roadside. AFP reports that both bodies had bullet wounds.

A third man abducted at the same time managed to escape and after being found on Monday was placed under police protection.

The Mexican Council of Bishops identified the dead men as priests Alejo Nabor Jimenez Juarez and Jose Alfredo Juarez de la Cruz, reported the Associated Press.

"We express our pain and indignation at the violence committed against them," the council said in a statement.

"In these moments of pain and powerlessness in the face of the tragic violence we pray to the heavens for the eternal rest of our brothers and ask our Lord for the conversion of their killers," the statement added. "From the authorities, we expect an investigation clear up these acts and that those responsible be brought to justice."

A tribute to the slain priests
A tribute to the slain priests on the website of the Diocese of Papantla Diocese of Papantla

The area around Poza Rica has been riven by gun violence in recent years, with rival drugs cartel factions struggling for control.

The New Generation Jalisco Cartel is seeking to challenge Los Zetas cartel's control over Northern Veracruz, according to reports.

Priests have been murdered before in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, which is also affected by gang violence. The motive for the killings remains unclear.