Vladimir Hernandez bbc.co.uk "To some it may seem extraordinary, but priests say the country is under attack by Satan, and that more exorcists are needed to fight him. This attack, they say, is showing itself in the gruesome drug-related violence, including human sacrifice, that has engulfed the country since 2006. According to the latest official figures available, at least 70,000 people have died in this period, including gunmen, members of the security forces, and many innocent civilians. But, the priests say, it's not just the numbers. The savagery also stands out. In recent years it has not been uncommon in many parts of Mexico for children to find dismembered bodies on the streets on their way to school. Or for commuters on busy roads to drive past bridges with severely tortured corpses hanging from them. Scenes from hell. "We believe that behind all these big and structural evils there is a dark agent and his name is The Demon. That is why the Lord wants to have here a ministry of exorcism and liberation, for the fight against the Devil," says Father Carlos Triana, a priest, and an exorcist, in Mexico City. "As much as we believe that the Devil was behind Adolf Hitler, possessing and directing him, we also believe that he (the Devil) is here behind the drug cartels." Mexico's exorcists say there is unprecedented demand for their services. Some are even not taking new cases, as they are having to exorcise demons almost every day... In Bautista's view, the rising demand for exorcism is partly explained by the large numbers of Mexicans joining the cult of Saint Death, or Santa Muerte. It is estimated that the cult, whose followers worship a skull in a wedding dress carrying a scythe, has some eight million followers in Mexico - and more among Mexican migrants in Central America, the US and Canada. "It has also been adopted by the drug traffickers who ask her for help to avoid arrest and to make money," Bautista says. "In exchange they offer human sacrifices. And this has increased the violence in Mexico." Another reason for the surge in exorcisms, he argues, is the decriminalisation of abortions in Mexico City, in 2007. Both the cult and abortion have given evil spirits a foothold in the country, he insists. "Both things are closely related. There is an infestation of demons in Mexico because we have opened our doors to Death."... Man shows off tattoo on his arms A frontline of sorts for Mexico's exorcists is the northern region of the country where, for the last seven years, the Mexican military has been waging war against the heavily armed and cash-rich drug cartels. In parallel with the soldiers, priests have been waging a spiritual conflict. One is Father Ernesto Caro, based in Monterrey, a city blighted by frequent shootouts and kidnappings. He has exorcised several members of the drug cartels - and there is one case he cannot forget. It was a gang hitman, who confessed to horrific crimes. Father Caro said the man had been in charge of cutting the bodies into pieces and he said he enjoyed hearing them cry as he did so. Others he burned alive. The priest says the man had committed his life to the service of Saint Death. "The cult is the first step into Satanism and then into this band of people [the drug traffickers], that's why he was chosen for that job." "Santa Muerte is being used by all our drug dealers and those linked to these brutal murders. We've found that most of them, if not all, follow Santa Muerte," he adds. The cult is also followed by criminals, policemen, politicians and artists. "The biggest presence is in the poorest sectors of Mexican society," says journalist Jose Gil Olmos, who has published two books on Saint Death. The first references to Saint Death occur in the 18th Century, he says, not in Aztec times, as many believe. "In modern times the numbers of followers exploded, especially after the early 1990s economic meltdown." Many middle-class Mexicans found themselves in misery. In despair they searched for hope, and some turned to Saint Death, Olmos says. "From approximately eight years ago we have seen Santa Muerte having a big presence with drug cartel members, from the bosses all the way down... Map of drug cartels in Mexico I went to see what this cult was all about at its biggest annual ceremony in the neighbourhood of Tepito, in Mexico City, a place riddled with drug trafficking and crime. It's here that one of the biggest sanctuaries of Saint Death in Mexico is located. It's kept tidy by Enriqueta Romero, a woman in her sixties, whose life changed dramatically 12 years ago when she shocked her neighbours by putting a Saint Death figure in her window. Over the years, more and more people started arriving to pay tribute to the skull figure in a dress. And now thousands gather for the cult's most important ceremony on 31 October, the eve of Mexico's Day of the Dead festival... During my visit, some people reach the shrine walking on their knees. One of them is a man who carries a 20-day-old baby in his arms. He's come to present his daughter to the skull... It was former President Felipe Calderon who launched the offensive against drug cartels in Mexico in 2006, by deploying troops to the worst-hit areas. Over the years the military has discovered numerous shrines, temples and even churches of Saint Death across the region, and plenty of evidence of human sacrifice. to read more click here: bbc.co.uk
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