Mexico’s Saint Death cult makes in-roads with local Catholics, posing new challenges for the Church in the country ahead of Pope Francis’ visit.
TULTITLAN, STATE OF MEXICO, MEXICO (FEBRUARY 11, 2016) (REUTERS) – During Pope Francis’ five-day visit to Mexico starting on February 12, he may be surprised to find a new trend emerging amongst the faithful in the country.
In a country wracked by drug violence and poverty, Santa Muerte, or “Saint Death” or “Holy Death” is striking a chord with many in the country.
The veneration of the worshipping of a female skeletal grim reaper is not a situation any pope would hope to find in Mexico, for long one of the world’s most devout Roman Catholic countries.
But unlike other home-grown Mexican tenets of faith that have mixed with Catholicism, the Vatican has taken a hard line against Santa Muerte.
On the outskirts of Mexico City in Tultitlan, a temple dedicated to Holy Death is a popular place of worship.
Followers leave offerings of tequila, rum, beer, cigarettes, cash, flowers and candy at altars adorned with rosaries and candles.
The Catholic Church frowns on the cult, whose origins may be traced back to Aztec and Mayan death-gods or to ancient European traditions, but many devotees call themselves Catholics.
“We’ve been very close to her because she has given us a lot. She has given us lots of things. We also think its because of the medium of God, because he is with her. For us she is an image, something to believe in. It’s very important and now we’ve come to pay for a request,” said Saint Death believer, Yolanda Holan.
The lure of the Santa Muerte is that she is said to honour requests without judging them.
The movement has followers ranging from police officials and politicians to kidnappers and gangsters who are said to ask her for protection before setting out on hits.
Believer, Mario, told Reuters that Saint Death is compatible with the Catholic God.
“Saint Death is under the orders of God so I know that the worshipping of Saint Death is not bad. I know she’s not bad, she’s done a lot of miracles. They’ve told me this, I’ve read this on Internet pages and it’s motivated me to get closer to her. When I come here to the Temple of Death I feel calm, I feel comfortable,” he said.
This Temple of Death for Santa Muerte is one of the country’s largest places of worship for this local cut.
People here are seen praying under a 22-metre (72-foot) statue of “Santa Muerte,” a black fibreglass statue, which was erected in 2007 and can be seen from a busy road.
With 10 million followers in Mexico, the United States and Central America, according to according to R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” the cult’s popularity may pose a problem for the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.