Can i worship death

MexicoThe adoration of death

A parking lot in Tultitlan, a northern suburb of Mexico City. One of the largest Santa Muerte shrines in Mexico is located here. The 22-meter-high black figure stands directly on an arterial road and spreads its arms. On the site there are several shrines with partly life-size figures of the "bone lady", as she is popularly known. The Santa Muerte figures look like a female reaper Death, with a scythe and long robe. People bring beer and tequila, cigarettes, cooking oil, apples and sweets as offerings.

On this Sunday, almost 150 believers came to the parking lot, mostly young men and women with their children, they pray and eat together. Enriqueta Vargas is the head of the parish. She is affectionately called "Madrina", godmother. Santa Muerte has a very special meaning for them:

"Death is a reality for all people. We are born and we die. Many people label the Santa Muerte belief as diabolical because they are ignorant of it. This belief is thousands of years old, it is from our ancestors and it is there are plenty of followers of the Angel of Death in Mexico. We're going back to our roots. "

One of these roots lies in the rich tradition of the Aztec cult of the dead, in which the believers asked the goddess of death Mictlancihuatl for help in this world with offerings. When the Spanish conquerors subjugated Mexico in the early 16th century, they brought with them the depiction of the reaper Death. The fact that death treats everyone equally makes the cult today particularly attractive for those who feel marginalized by the Catholic Church.

Andrew Chesnut is a professor of the history of religion at Virginia Commonwealth University. The promise to treat everyone equally is one of the most important reasons for the Santa Muerte's rapidly growing popularity.

"She is the saint who does not discriminate. This is met with great approval in Mexican society, as the gap between rich and poor in Mexico, as in all of Latin America, is enormous. This unbelievable gap that exists here makes the leveling scythe who have favourited Santa Muerte, extremely appealing to anyone who sees a lot of injustice in society. "

Another reason is that many in Mexico's society, which is increasingly dominated by drug war and violence, feel unprotected.

“An estimated 70,000 deaths have occurred in the last six or seven years of the drug war. The fact that many believers, who have seen so much death and dying, especially in Mexico, turn to Santa Muerte and ask them to put a few grains in the hourglass Adding of life is fascinating: they ask death to prolong their lives. "

The Vatican, on the other hand, continues to be hostile to the Santa Muerte cult. During a visit to Mexico, the president of the papal cultural academy, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, condemned the cult in an unusually harsh manner. He speaks of a "satanic drug cult". For the spokesman of the Mexican Bishops' Conference Pablo Padrazzi, the popularity of the Santa Muerte has two main reasons: the closeness of individual Mexicans to criminal organizations and the lack of education.

"There has always been worship of Santa Muerte, at least since the 18th century, especially among some indigenous people who have not been evangelized thoroughly enough. These people mix Catholic beliefs with the Santa Muerte business because they cannot tell the difference They are not educated, that is what worries the Catholic Church most. "

Religious historian Andrew Chesnut sees it differently. He suspects that the rejection of Rome was caused by the fear that the faithful might migrate entirely to Santa Muerte:

"There is a growing religious pluralism in Mexico and all of Latin America. And the fact that this allegedly heretical death saint now has around 10 million followers worries the Roman Catholic Church, especially since she has many over the past 40-50 years Has lost members especially to the American Pentecostal churches. "

Enriqueta Vargas, the patroness of the Santa Muerte Shrine in Tultitlan, smiles at the argument. The Catholic Church has yet to understand that there is freedom of religion in Mexico, she says. In addition, there are as many drug dealers with the tattooed image of the Virgin of Guadelupe as Santa Muerte. Drug crime is a big problem for all of Mexico.

"Much has been said about priests who abuse children. That is not true either. There are bad priests and there are good priests. Everything can be found in God's vineyard. At Santa Muerte there is no one who claims to admit anything be what he is not. How many people go to church, cross themselves, beat their chests and claim to be good? "