Bishops in the U.S. are joining their colleagues in Mexico in denouncing what has become one of the fastest growing religious movements in North America – the worship of the fictional folk saint known as La Santa Muerte.
The Albuquerque Journal is reporting on a recent newspaper article in which Ciudad Juarez Bishop Jose Guadalupe Torres Campos denounced La Santa Muerte, which means “Holy Death”, a saint linked to violence and the illicit drug trade. In the article, the bishop urged parishioners not to join this “cult.”
“Clad in a black nun’s robe and holding a scythe in one hand, Santa Muerte appeals to people seeking all manner of otherworldly help: from fending off wrongdoing and carrying out vengeance to stopping lovers from cheating and landing better jobs. Others seek her protection for their drug shipments and to ward off law enforcement,” the Journal reports.
“Devotees often use Catholic prayers and set up shrines in her honor. The saint is especially popular among Mexican-American Catholics, rivaling that of St. Jude and La Virgen de Guadalupe as a favorite for miracle requests . . . . Her image has been used on prayer cards citing vengeance and protection, which are sometimes found at scenes of massacred bodies and on drug shipments.”
The “saint,” which is widely popular in Mexico and has sometimes been linked to drug cartels, is now moving north of the border and has found a place in the United States among a wide range of people from business owners and artists to gay activists and the working poor.
This is in spite of the fact that the Catholic Church has repeatedly denounced Santa Muerte as satanic.
But now U.S. bishops are getting involved in the effort to stop this dangerous cult from spreading.
Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester, El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, and San Angelo Bishop Michael Sis in Texas have now joined their counterparts in Mexico in urging Catholics to avoid honoring the folk saint and called her “antithetical” to the teachings of Jesus.
“She’s not a saint. There is nothing good that can come out of praying to her,” Wester said. “We have a lot of saints who represent the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is an aberration.”
Bishop Sis called La Santa Muerte “spiritually dangerous,” adding that there is no link to Catholicism. “It should be completely avoided. It is a perversion of devotion to the saints,” Sis said.
Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” said the condemnation of La Santa Muerte echoes what both the Vatican and Mexican bishops have been saying for years now.
“Given the Church in Mexico has been condemning devotion to Santa Muerte on a weekly basis over the past five years, I’m actually surprised it’s taken so long for an American bishop to publicly denounce veneration of the Mexican folk saint,” Chesnut told the Journal.
However, in spite of these warnings, Santa Muerte is now the fasting growing new religious movement in North America with the US having the second-largest population of devotees after Mexico.