By Amanda Schiavo, May 09, 2013 01:41 PM EDT
(PHOTO CREDIT: creative commons) An image of a Santa Muerte statue.
The president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi declared worshipping the Mexican folk saint of death or Santa Muerte blasphemous. The Cardinal said "it's not religion just because it's dressed up like religion; it's blasphemy against religion," the BBC reports.
The Mexican tradition of worshipping Santa Muerte is largely seen as a cult. It is growing in popularity among areas in Mexico ravaged by violence relating to drug and gang wars.
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Cardinal Ravasi was in Mexico speaking at a number of gatherings for believers and non-believers in order to help them find a way to God. The "Courtyard of the Gentiles" as the gathering is called, is a program started by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 as a way of introducing God to non-believers, The Telegraph says.
The Cardinal denounced Santa Muerte at an event in Mexico City. He believes the Saint of Death sends the wrong message to Catholic children in Mexico because it is so popular among criminals, like gang members and drug lords.
"The mafia, drug trafficking and organized crime don't have a religious aspect and have nothing to do with religion, even if they use the image of Santa Muerte," the Cardinal said.
Followers who worship Santa Muerte pray to the figure of a female skeleton wearing a cloak and holding a scythe. They place the statue on an alter with offerings of "votive candles, fruit and tequila in the hope Santa Muerte will grant their wishes," BBC reports.
Time.com says that people pray to the Saint of Death in order to be protected from "the evil that lurks in their lives. Others seek darker blessings no other Saint would approve."
Time.com also reports the cult of Santa Muerte has a large following in the Mexican City neighborhood of Tepito. This neighborhood is one of the most dangerous and infamous in Mexico, "home to a flourishing black market, poverty and extensive crime."
The cult of Santa Muerte has a dark following, beyond drug dealers and gang members. Some who worship the Saint of Death practice ritual sacrifice as a way of appeasing Santa Muerte.
BBC reports, last year police in Mexico police arrested 8-people in connection with the murder of a woman and two boys believed to be a Santa Muerte sacrifice.