In Los Angeles, California, and in other cities in the United States and Mexico where the Latino population is more numerous, a new and disturbing object of worship is emerging. It is called la Santa Muerte, or the "Holy Death." This cult has been the cause of much friction and confusion on the part of Latino Catholics who are not strong in their faith.
Many believe that the Holy Death is a "Saint" who will bring them health, good luck and other commodities. She is very popular with drug dealers and prostitutes, homosexuals and those in legitimate but dangerous nighttime work, such as security guards, police officers and taxi drivers. But also there are many Catholics who are becoming involved in praying to and worshipping her.
A handful of storefront "shrines" have been set up with statues of the Holy Death portrayed as a female grim reaper dressed in robes with a skull for a face. Followers leave gifts of cigars, cigarettes, tequila, drugs, money and other items. The rites used in this cult-worship mirror traditional Catholic devotions to the Virgin Mary. The image or statue itself bears a startling resemblance to that of the Virgin Mary, from her posture to the manner in which she is dressed. The only difference is that her face is a gruesome skull.
This satanic cult wishes to twist the faith of believers who have a special love for Mary – the Holy Death is a betrayal and deformation of that belief. Satan wishes to desecrate and blaspheme the Virgin Mary. Prayers to her even mimic those used by Catholics to the Virgin Mary: "Blessed and glorious mother, Angel of Death, we ask you to protect us."
Catholic officials in North America have certainly taken notice of the Holy Death's growing popularity. In consequence, they have encouraged priests with a large population of Latino faithful to address the so-called saint's rise in popularity from the pulpit. Some of the people involved in this cult have experienced a sort of healing and so the Holy Death has been credited with "miracles." A Catholic who is informed in his faith, however, would know that when one makes a pact or promise to Satan, there is always a heavy price to pay. Those who become entangled in the web of deceit formed by this cult have experienced major problems such as loss of faith, involvement with drugs, alcohol and broken families.
Father Marco Mercado, of the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Little Village, Chicago, visits his parishioner's homes occasionally. As is common in Mexican residences, there was an altar with several Catholic saints. One statue, however, stood out: the Holy Death. Father Mercado recalls telling the parishioner, "This is not at all connected with the Catholic faith."
Father Oscar Cantu of Houston, Texas says he has watched the Holy Death gain popularity in his largely Mexican-American community, particularly among poor, uneducated immigrants. Father Cantu says he has made clear to his members that the cult of the Holy Death is in conflict with the Church's teaching.
Catholic priests in the center of Mexico City are giving sermons about Rome's take on the issue, that "death is a phenomenon, not a saint or an angel." Last month, 500 Catholics from three parishes held an outdoor Mass near one of the Holy Death shrines to show they reject the movement, Roman said. Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera said, "We celebrate life and not death" when responding to questions about the sect.
Fr. Rubin Avela Enrique of Mexico says that, "the people don't really know their Christian doctrine, so they become confused. They create a doctrine of convenience, asking a kind of protection (and acceptance of anti-Christian lifestyles). This is a false protection, as these beliefs are linked to magic and esoteric practices."
– Editorial Staff