For many years, the mustachioed Jesus Malverde was the “saint” that drug traffickers went to when seeking spiritual support. But lately Jesus Malverde seems to be getting some competition from a skeletal figure called Santa Muerte or the Saint of Death.
When Mexican authorities detained suspected trafficker Angel Jacome Gamboa, aka “El Kaibil,” at a Tijuana banquet hall in March, they found him carrying a gun that had been emblazoned with an image – not of Jesus Malverde – but of the Santa Muerte.
In recent weeks, I’ve run across a few U.S.-based reporters seeking experts to speak on the Santa Muerte’s growing popularity north of the border (according to this 2007 Time article, they are a little late). South of the border, I’ve also noticed several stories in the media about Mexican authorities knocking down the Santa Muerte’s shrines. Followers in Mexico City recently marched in protest of the actions, according to this Reuters article.
To be sure, the two unofficial “saints” aren’t exclusively worshipped by drug traffickers. The Santa Muerte had been used to pray for life-saving miracles as well as death to enemies, according to the Time article. Malverde may have been based on the story of a bandit killed by Mexican authorities in 1909. Their presence possibly represents the erratic results that came from imposing the Catholic religion on a country with its own indigenous faith traditions.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering if all the attention on the trendy Santa Muerte might lead to a nostalgic resurgence of interest in Jesus Malverde.
Photos approved for public use. Click photo for credit.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Baja California, border, destroyed shrines, drug trafficker religion, faith, jesus malverde, mexico, narco religion, narco saints, religion, saints, santa muerte, Tijuana
University of San Diego invites the public to attend a presentation on religion, migration and national identity. The event starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009:
“The Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies and the Trans-Border Institute welcomes His Excellency, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, J.C.D. Apostolic Nuncio. Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants
The Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies and the Trans-Border Institute will sponsor a major international conference on April 15-16, 2009, to consider the connections between migration, religious experience, and national identification. This conference will provide a unique opportunity to examine migration, religion, an national identity in historical and comparative perspective, as well as the efforts of different faith communities to grapple with the challenges of contemporary immigration and assimilation. In advance of the conference, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto will offer his reflections on these important issues.”
The event is free and open to the public at USD’s Joan Kroc Theatre
For directions, visit www.sandiego.edu/about/directions
Read the event flyer here.
Photo of Mision Nuestra Senora de Loreto, in Loreto.
**Disclosure: I am a contributing writer for the monthly Justice in Mexico news report, which is produced by USD’s Trans-Border Institute**
Click on image to be directed to CurrentTV video
Years ago, while traveling in Guatemala, I stumbled upon a procession of people singing religious songs. The were carrying a shoebox with a tiny plastic baby doll inside. The doll, which represented Jesus, was being brought to a house where the village members filed in to pray before the thumb-sized effigy.
Since then, I’ve often been struck by the amount of faith that people place in God, Jesus and assorted saints in certain Latin American communities. The Catholic religion was imposed on the local indigenous population during the Spanish conquest, but faith existed long before then in different forms. As a result, the Catholic tradition was also expropriated by the local population in unique ways. For example, the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s most revered religious icon, is seen by some as a synthesis of the Virgin Mary.
Here are a couple of videos that caught my eye over the past month that provide some visual reference points to religion and faith in Mexico:
In December, an estimated 7 million Mexicans make a pilgrimage to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, some of them crawling on their knees. The video is by Deborah Bonello of the Los Angeles Times and you can see it here.
The Saint of Death has come to be a figure referred by drug traffickers and others who live life on the edge. The reporting, hosted on CurrentTV, is done by former Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Weekly reporter Daniel Hernandez who is working on a book about youth culture in Mexico’s interior. You can see the video here.
Screen shot of CurrentTV video, reported by Daniel Hernandez
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged border, daniel hernandez, death saint, deborah bonello, faith, mexico, religion, santa muerte, Tijuana, virgen guadalupe, virgin guadalupe