Drug wars, civil unrest and now Mexico has to deal with a Holy Death

Cult: High priest arrested over kidnapping and extortion

Mail Online, UK/January 4, 2011

Mexican police have arrested the high priest of the infamous Holy Death Cult after he and eight worshippers allegedly posed as members of a fearsome drug cartel in a kidnapping case.

David Romo, the head of a sect which has millions of followers across the Americas, was paraded before the media with his accomplices in Mexico City yesterday, following their arrests in late December.

It is alleged Romo, 42, pretended to be a member of drug gang The Zetas, one of Mexico's most violent drug gangs, to snatch two elderly citizens and extort a ransom, which he then paid into his own bank account.

'The nine captured... passed themselves off as members of the Zetas,' said prosecutor Miguel Angel Mancera of the Mexico City attorney general's office.

Romo has denied any wrongdoing, claiming his church condemns violence and has no links to drug traffickers, but he also said that he leaves the door open to everyone as followers, in keeping with the cult's beliefs.

Santa Muerte - which translates literally from Spanish as 'Holy death' or 'Saint death' - is firmly entrenched as the religion of choice among Mexico’s lower classes and criminal worlds because the death saint is said to grant requests without judgement.

Followers honour an idol often depicted depicted as a skeletal grim reaper draped in white satin robes, beaded necklaces and carrying a scythe.

Worshippers leave offerings of tequila, rum, beer, cigarettes, cash, flowers and candy at altars adorned with rosaries and candles.

The cult's numbers have grown rapidly over the last two decades and it has been estimated that there are as many as two million worshippers in Mexico and in Mexican-American communities in the United States.

The cult of Santa Muerte appeals to people who wouldn't traditionally earn the blessing of the traditional Catholic Church, but who are not atheists. That underclass has essentially created its own religion to reflect their daily realities in a notoriously violent country.

Santa Muerte's origins trace back to Aztec and Mayan death gods or to ancient European traditions, but many devotees call themselves Catholics, although the Catholic church condemns the sect as devil worshippers.

In order to obtain the kidnap ransom, Romo allegedly posed as a member of notorious drug gang The Zetas.

The Zetas are feared for their violent battles with rival gangs and official security forces in a country already renowned for its ferocious four year drug war that has so far killed more than 30,000 people.

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