The Washington Post has published an outstanding article about one Mexican priest’s dangerous ministry, in the heart of territory controlled by Mexico’s murderous drug cartels.

The article, titled “A Test of Faith in Mexico’s Drug War”, begins like this:

TEPALCATEPEC, Mexico—Father Miguel López drives the parish pickup truck across the muddy river that separates two warring drug cartels. He follows the winding road through the dark green foothills of the Sierra Madre until he comes to a rusting archway where traffickers hung the severed head of his friend.

The Roman Catholic priest spends his days navigating this dangerous terrain, a world he describes as “fallen.” He prays with widows whose husbands disappeared in broad daylight, and gives Communion to the men who may have killed them. In the village where he grew up, at the end of this lonely road, his lifelong neighbors were too afraid to unbolt their doors when they heard screams for help in the middle of the night—when an entire family, including four children, was kidnapped in June amid a clash between rival gangsters.

“The fear is one that we all share,” López said, steering his gray truck through hills that conceal a vast network of marijuana farms and methamphetamine labs. “Sometimes I can’t sleep at night. But these are the times when you have to define who you are. To do anything less is to be an accomplice.”

Beyond the reach of the U.S. and Mexican governments in their fight against drug traffickers is an intimate, complex world of communal violence and crippled institutions. At the center of the drug war is Michoacan, a rugged, rural state in the southwest where all forms of traditional authority—city hall, the military, police and even the Catholic Church—have been unable to protect the people against the assassinations, kidnappings and extortions associated with the narcotics trade.

It is a world in which individuals like López struggle on their own.

And here’s how it ends:

The priest said he took hope from a recent meeting with an older priest, who was nearly 90. López asked him: How will we survive this crisis?

“This won’t last. This can’t last. Don’t forget that the beast has been defeated. Satan has been defeated,” the older man told him.

“Those words, so optimistic, from someone so wise, I have to believe them,” López said. “It left me convinced that this can’t go on forever.”