Panamanian cardinal found safe after disappearing for 48 hours

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Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán of David, Panama, is pictured celebrating Mass Dec. 7, 2019. Cardinal Lacunza was found safe Feb. 1, 2024, after disappearing for about 48 hours. His absence launched a police search and a call for "permanent prayer" for him by the Panamanian bishops' conference. (OSV News photo/David Agren)

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) — Cardinal José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán of David, Panama, was found safe after disappearing for approximately 48 hours, an absence that provoked a police search for the prelate and concern for his well-being.

The cardinal, who turns 80 Feb. 24, reappeared on the afternoon of Feb. 1 in the city of Boquete, near the border with Costa Rica, according to Panamanian media. Church sources told the news organization Mi Diario that he was in good condition. He had been last seen Jan. 30 in the diocesan seat of David, 30 miles to the south.

Panama’s National Police posted a brief video on X, showing its director, John Dornheim, chatting with Cardinal Lacunza through the window of the cardinal’s vehicle and offering him water. The prosecutor’s office in the province of Chiriquí said on X that it had opened an investigation into the cardinal’s disappearance on Jan. 30.

‘Permanent prayer’

The Panamanian bishops’ conference announced Cardinal Lacunza’s appearance in a brief statement Feb. 1. It had called for “permanent prayer” in a statement released just prior to Cardinal Lacunza’s reappearance.

The circumstances of Cardinal Lacunza’s disappearance and reappearance remain uncertain.

Mediating conflicts

The Spanish-born prelate, a member of the Augustinian Recollects, moved to Panama as a missionary and was appointed bishop of David in 1999 by St. John Paul II. Pope Francis elevated him to cardinal in 2015.

Cardinal Lacunza has worked to mediate conflicts in western Panama, where indigenous groups have protested to protect their lands amid the incursion of actions such as mining.

David Agren

David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City.