Missionaries pray for eternal life for worshipers of Saint of Death

Casting a long shadow across one of Mexico City’s poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods stands a seven-story tall image of Santa Muerte – the Saint of Death. She takes the form of a human skeleton clad in black plastic sheeting with arms outstretched, inviting residents in from the streets to make offerings of flowers, fruit, burned cigarettes and alcoholic drinks.

Even in a country known for its fascination with death (which is celebrated every November during the Day of the Dead festivities), Santa Muerte seems macabre and gruesome.

A 72-ft tall image of the “Saint of Death” towers over Mexico City’s Templo Santa Muerte Internacional.

The Catholic church denounces devotion to the folk saint as cultic, but for her many worshipers, the city’s poorest-of-the-poor, Santa Muerte promises prosperity, healing, protection and vengeance in criminal gang battles. “The bony lady,” as her followers call her, is believed to be the one who will come to collect us when it’s our time to die.

The cult of Santa Muerte was popularized by Jonathan Legaría, the ambitious son of a middle-class family in Mexico City, his father a politician and his mother a karaoke bar owner. He had always been fascinated by magic and the occult and convinced many that he had healing powers.

After his violent death in a hail of bullets in 2008, at just 26 years of age, the cult grew rapidly under the organization of his now-deceased mother, Enriqueta Vargas. Indeed, there are now estimated to be more than 10 million followers, not just in Mexico, but across the Americas, with altars to the saint in various cities in the U.S.

IMB Mexico City missionary, Carlos Llambes, explains the mindset behind the worship of death.

“They think that the only thing in life that is sure is death, so we better be on good terms with her,” Llambe says.

Pray for the people in Mexico City who are deceived by this false saint and its false prophets. Pray that they will see their sin in taking shelter from death, covenanting with her for eternal security. Pray for them to understand that the only truly sure thing in this life is Jesus.

Ask God to sustain missionaries and evangelical Christians ministering in the midst of much spiritual darkness. Join them in praying that people will choose to follow the true God of eternal life who casts out fear.

A worshipper lights a candle before praying to an image of the “Saint of Death” in Mexico City’s Templo Santa Muerte Internacional.

Images of Santa Muerte are dressed in colors that represent a range of miraculous favors that she can grant. For example, green is associated with justice in a dispute or legal matter, or seeking unity with loved ones. The saint is often dressed as a bride wearing a veil, and seeking a husband.

Fruit, flowers and votive candles are offered to an image of the folk saint Santa Muerte at a shrine in Mexico City. The colors of each candle indicate what kind of prayer request was made to the saint.

A devotee prays in front of an image of the saint at Mexico City’s Templo Santa Muerte Internacional.

A painted mural depicts Jonathan Legaría and his mother Enriqueta Vargas, who guided the rapid expansion of the cult after his death, aged 26.

Hugh Johnson is an IMB worker serving on the communications team.

Give now to support the ongoing task of reaching the dark places of the world with the light of Jesus Christ. This year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is especially critical as countries face unprecedented challenges and missionaries remain steadfast on the frontlines of the gospel advance.

This article was originally published by the IMB at imb.org

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