Your article, re: "Our Lady of Guadalupe battles 'Holy Death' for devotion of Mexican faithful," coincided with my wife's and my watching of an episode of Breaking Bad.
- "the veladoras — tall religious candles in glass jars....[are] devotional candles to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and St. Jude. And often in the line of saints and religious images are candles to Santa Muerte.
"Santa Muerte, translated 'Holy Death' or 'St. Death,' usually is depicted on candles or in statues as a skeleton dressed in long robes or a bridal gown. Sometimes she has a wig on; sometimes she carries a scythe; sometimes she stands on the earth. She has become a favorite patron of narco traffickers carrying drugs across the Mexican-U.S. border, where shrines to her can be found along the roadsides. Many, if not most, of her followers call themselves Catholic.
"But Santa Muerte is no saint. Saints, after all, are real people, not personifications of a universal experience, who are living with God in heaven, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They can be intermediaries or intercessors with God, hearing the prayers of the faithful and asking God to perform miracles.
"Santa Muerte, her followers believe, grants favors on her own, and not all of them are the sort of favors that people think God would approve of."
It is unfortunate that your article goes on to cite, in depth, the work of "R. Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies and a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Chesnut wrote 'Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint'...to help familiarize English-speaking audiences with La Flaquita, (the Skinny Lady, one of many nicknames)." What is of any value to that book has already been shared in your article. A quarter of the way through that book, it appears that Chesnut has passed from the realm of researcher to something of a Santa Muerte devotee/apologist. His position as a chair of Catholic studies could certainly be a great source of confusion to readers! Would OSV be interested in giving me my money back?
I have just stepped back in the house after a visit to a local bargain store, where I just spotted a veladoros of Santa Muerte (I am writing from suburban Philadelphia.). It appears that this is indeed a growing pastoral concern, of which our clergy should be aware. As your article notes,
- "Some people are willing to abandon Santa Muerte when they understand what she is, and is not. Others need more catechizing to understand why they cannot be good Catholics and offer prayers to death, the last enemy that Jesus defeated."