Members of Mexico's Catholic hierarchy are working with President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto's transition team on a plan to protect Central American migrants who pass through the country en route to the United States, a prominent activist priest said.

"The transition team demonstrated a great interest and determination" to ease the plight of migrants, the Rev. Alejandro Solalinde told Efe.

The priest, who runs a shelter for migrants in the southern state of Oaxaca, traveled to Mexico City to talk to federal officials and lawmakers about last week's abduction of 40 Central American migrants in the southern Gulf coast state of Veracruz.

Neither Veracruz authorities nor the military units deployed in the state have shown much interest in investigating the crime, Solalinde said.

An estimated 140,000 Central Americans undertake the hazardous journey across Mexico each year on their way to the United States, down from nearly 300,000 annually before the U.S. economic downturn of 2008.

The already arduous journey is made more dangerous by the depredations of criminals and corrupt Mexican officials who prey on the migrants.

Central American migrants follow a long route that first takes them into Chiapas, which is on the border with Guatemala, walking part of the way or riding aboard freight trains, buses and cargo trucks.

"Thousands of migrants have been abducted and often murdered, victims of rape and abuses by criminal bands that operate in collusion with public authorities," the Mexican chapter of Amnesty International said recently.

In 2010, the Los Zetas drug cartel massacred 72 migrants who refused to work for the criminal organization.

Solalinde recently returned to Mexico after a sojourn abroad prompted by death threats over his outspoken advocacy on behalf of migrant.

The Mexican Attorney General's Office has assigned the priest a police escort. EFE