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Sometime during the early morning hours of Saturday, March 21, someone using an earth-moving machine plowed under a chapel to La Santa Muerte (Holy Death), the “patron saint” of a strange religious cult popular with narco-traffickers.

The tiny shrine made of concrete blocks had stood for five years on an abandoned road between Tijuana and Tecate, near the Rodriguez Dam. Followers of La Santa Muerte revere a skull-faced statue holding a scythe in her right hand and an hourglass in her left. Worshippers leave cigars, cigarettes, matchboxes, and even cans of beer behind in the chapel as part of their rituals, which also involve candles, knives, dolls, and strings.

One of the cult’s biggest draws is that followers can ask La Santa Muerte to wreak vengeance on their enemies. A prayer (translated): “I want you to make it so that [insert the name] can't eat on a table, can't sit on a chair, nor have peacefulness. I wish that you force him to give himself up and humiliate him in front of me, come to my feet, and never ever leave me.”

Tijuana archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz expressed little sympathy for Santa Muerte followers. He told the Tijuana daily Frontera that when Catholic churches are vandalized or robbed, the press pays little attention, so why the big fuss over La Santa Muerte? Romo said the cult was nothing but a business selling scary images of “the patron of narco-trafickers” and that its followers ask the grisly image to help them complete their “vengeance and killings.”

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