- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Death may not be proud, but her followers sure are angry.

Leaders of Mexico’s “Death Saint” church are protesting the destruction of more than 30 shrines by authorities in northern Mexico. Their archbishop said Sunday that it was an act of religious discrimination and has demanded a meeting with President Felipe Calderon.

Mexico’s Death Saint is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but followers use elements of catholic rites. At shrines, chapels and small churches across the country, tens of thousands of people worship the Death Saint, which is often depicted as a robe-covered skeleton resembling the Grim Reaper. It is particularly popular with drug traffickers.

Early last week, workers using back hoes accompanied by army troops toppled and crushed more 30 shrines on a roadway in the city of Nuevo Laredo across the border from Laredo, Texas. Many were elaborate, one-story, marble-clad constructions with electric lighting and statues of the skeletal Death Saint. Devotees leave offerings of candles to the folk saint.

City authorities said the roadside shrines were built without permission on public land, and argued the shrines gave the city a bad image.

But the destruction enraged Death Saint church leaders, including archbishop David Romo who in a homily Sunday called on followers across Mexico to hold demonstrations against the demolitions.

“It was both an open act of religious intolerance and an act of arrogance,” Romo said. “We are entering a stage of religious and governmental terrorism.”

He called on followers to stage protest marches during Easter week, including a potentially provocative Easter Sunday march to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the country’s widely-revered Roman Catholic patroness.

Hugo Valdemar Romero, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico, said the Roman Catholic Church was in no way involved in the demolitions. But he added that “it is no secret that this (Saint Death) religious organization is associated with drug traffickers and organized crime … it is not only superstitious, but diabolical.”

While Saint Death followers frequently pray to the saint to protect them from violent death or ask for release from prison, the church denies its faithful are criminals.

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