MEXICO CITY, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Followers of Mexico’s Santa Muerte death cult replaced their scythe clutching skeleton idol on Sunday with a pale angel in a gold dress in an attempt to make their beliefs more palatable to Christianity.
Leader David Romo, who considers himself a Catholic priest, led devotees in a packed service to consecrate the new statue in the cult’s headquarters, a converted house in the gritty Mexico City neighborhood of Tepito.
Santa Muerte is a centuries-old pagan cult that sprung back up in recent years to claim some 2 million faithful in Mexico, the second-biggest Catholic country. Its followers range from elite politicians to kidnappers and gangsters.
Believers have been angered by the Roman Catholic Church’s disapproval of their ghoulish cult and government attempts to close their main Mexico City shrine.
Romo said the bible supported his belief that Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, was an Christian angel.
“It is possible to ask, to raise prayer to the angel of Santa Muerte,” he told reporters as the serene-looking new statue was unveiled.
Mexico City’s toughest neighborhoods are solid with the cult’s shrines, containing the grim-reaper-like image of a bejeweled and scythe-wielding skeleton.
In May, killers believed to be working for a cocaine smuggling cartel dumped the corpses of three men from a rival gang in a Santa Muerte shrine close the U.S. border.
But at Sunday’s ceremony believers in the powers of the new incarnation of their saint, dubbed the ‘White Lady,’ sang Christian hymns and families took their children to be baptized in front of the statue.
Followers do not see a contradiction between their worship of death and being Catholics. In Mexico, it is not uncommon for Catholic churches in indigenous villages to practice unorthodox rituals and worship their own saints.
“There is no difference, this is the Church,” said Francisco Zarmenta, as he waited in line to baptize his white-clad son, aged three.