The incidence of exorcisms and Satanic deliverance rites in Mexico has risen sharply in recent months, reportedly driven by the growth of the cult to Santa Muerte, a personification of death.
One cleric who regularly performs exorcisms, Pastor Hugo Alvarez, attributes the rise of demonic possessions to increased dabbling in the occult, including black magic, santería, witchcraft, sorcery, Satanism and especially the cult of Santa Muerte.
Alvarez, author of Deliverance: A Ministry for the Church, said that “Santa Muerte is one of the trickiest and most dangerous practices, since they present a saint, but there’s a demon behind it.”
“Satan’s greatest deceit is making people believe he doesn’t exist,” he said.
According to José Gil Olmos, journalist for the Mexican magazine El Proceso, “the cult of Santa Muerte is the most important popular devotion in the past half century, with no other devotion growing so fast.”
Estimates of the current number of Santa Muerte devotees “range from 8 to 10 million,” Gil Olmos said.
Tied to violent movements and especially the drug trade, the Santa Muerte devotion has experienced prodigious growth in recent years, drawing a reaction from both political and religious leaders. Many of the latter believe that this new religious movement has added to Mexico’s rise in violent crimes as well as demonic possessions.
In his visit to Mexico last February, Pope Francis denounced the devotion to Santa Muerte, telling the Mexican bishops that he was particularly concerned about “those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death.”
Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, and author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint, said that the Pope’s remarks were “an obvious reference to the saint of death.”
As “the fastest growing new religious devotion in the Americas,” Chesnut noted that the Pope “called out Santa Muerte as a dangerous symbol of narco-culture.”
“The Church views veneration of the Bony Lady as tantamount to Satanism since death is the antithesis of the eternal life that Jesus Christ made possible to believers,” Chesnut said.
The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, has also condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as “sinister and infernal” and called for both Church and society to mobilize against devotion to Saint Death.
“It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; it’s a blasphemy against religion,” he said.
“Everyone is needed to put the brakes on this phenomenon, including families, churches and society in its totality,” Ravasi said, adding that the Santa Muerte cult “is the celebration of devastation and of hell.”
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