"Holy Death" Cult Members March Against Violence in Mexico

Latin American Herald-Tribune/November 4, 2010

Monterrey, Mexico - Followers of Mexico's "Santa Muerte" (Holy Death) cult figure staged a march here to denounce violence and ask their protector to restore peace to Monterrey, the capital of the northern state of Nuevo Leon, a city beset by organized crime.

Around 300 marchers took to the streets of downtown Monterrey, accompanied by traditional religious dancers known as "matachines," before participating in a Mass on the streets of this industrial hub's low-income, downtown Obrera neighborhood.

"We ask Holy Death to restore peace to Monterrey. Holy Death doesn't belong to any drug-trafficking cartel," a priest who identified himself only as Mauricio said during Mass.

Followers of Holy Death, whose other names include Señora de las Sombras ("Lady of the Shadows"), Señora Blanca ("White Lady") and Señora Negra ("Black Lady"), are said to number in the millions.

Several police patrols monitored the anti-violence march to safeguard participants against an attack by organized crime elements, the priest said, adding that that intervention was unnecessary because Holy Death protects them.

The cult, which is popular among some Mexican criminals, is an eccentric blend of Christianity, Indian traditions and folk beliefs that arose in the 1940s in poor Mexico City neighborhoods and subsequently spread throughout the country.

Condemned by the Vatican, the cult is not recognized as a religious denomination by the Mexican government.

Several streets in Obrera were closed for the Mass, for which an improvised altar was set up and decorated with dozens of Holy Death figurines of different sizes.

"(The demonstration) is a victory for Holy Death's followers, who have been attacked by members of the Catholic Church," the priest told the faithful.

The church is winning over more adherents as Holy Death's "miracles" become known, according to the priest, who denied that it is mainly members of organized crime gangs who venerate this sacred figure.

Instead, ordinary people are the ones who ensure that the number of believers keeps growing across Mexico, the priest said.

The "first cathedral to Holy Death" is being built in the Monterrey metropolitan area, while shrines in her honor already exist throughout the country's northeast, mainly on roads leading to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Mexican army has ordered the destruction of some of these shrines in recent days, claiming that most worshipers are drug traffickers.

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