Why Archbishop Wester says prayer to Santa Muerte is 'really wrong'


Santa Fe, N.M., Mar 25, 2019 / 10:38 am (CNA).- The Archbishop of Santa Fe said recently that people praying to “Saint Death” won’t find the answers they’re looking for.

Archbishop John Wester told the Associated Press recently that Catholics praying to the skeletal figure, popular in Central America, may be fooled into thinking that “Santa Muerte” is an approved devotional practice in the Church.

But the practice of praying to “Saint Death” is not consistent with Catholic teaching, the archbishop said.

"It's really wrong," Wester told the AP.

"I think in part, it's (because) people are looking and searching. It's a symptom of a search looking for answers."

"Our devotion is to the God of life," he added.

In 2013, a Vatican official condemned devotion to “Santa Muerte,” equating it to “the celebration of devastation and of hell.”

“It’s not every day that a folk saint is actually condemned at the highest levels of the Vatican,” Andrew Chesnut, a Santa Muerte expert, told CNA in 2016.

Chesnut is the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint," the only English academic book to date on the subject.

Despite her condemnation from on high, Santa Muerte remains increasingly popular among criminals, drug lords and those on the fringe of society, as well as cultural Catholics who maybe don’t know (or care) that she is condemned by the Church.

“She’s basically the poster girl of narco-satanic spirituality,” Chesnut said.

According to Chesnut’s estimates, Santa Muerte is the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas - and it’s all happened within the past 10-15 years.

“She was unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans before 2001, when she went public. Now I estimate there’s some 10-12 million devotees, mostly in Mexico, but also significant numbers in the United States and Central America,” he said.

Part of the attraction to Santa Muerte, as several sources familiar with the devotion explained, is that she is seen as a non-judgemental saint that can be invoked for some not-so-holy petitions.

“If somebody is going to be doing something illegal, and they want to be protected from the law enforcement, they feel awkward asking God to protect them,” Fr. Andres Gutierrez, the pastor of St. Helen parish in Rio Hondo, Texas, explained to CNA in 2016.

“So they promise something to Santa Muerte in exchange for being protected from the law.”

Devotees also feel comfortable going to her for favors of vengeance - something they would never ask of God or a canonized saint, Chesnut said.

“I think this non-judgemental saint who’s going to accept me as I am is appealing,” Chesnut said, particularly to criminals or to people who don’t feel completely accepted within the Mexican Catholic or Evangelical churches.

The cultural Catholicism of Mexico and the drug wars of the past decade also made for the perfect storm for Santa Muerte to catch on, Chesnut explained. Even Mexicans who didn’t grow up going to Mass every Sunday still have a basic idea of what Catholicism entails - Mass and Saints and prayers like the rosary, all things that have been hi-jacked and adapted by the Santa Muerte movement.

“You can almost see some of it as kind of an extreme heretical form of folk Catholicism,” he said. “In fact, I can say Santa Muerte could only have arisen from a Catholic environment.”

This, coupled with the fact that Mexican Catholics are suddenly much more familiar with death, with the recent drug wars having left upwards of 60,000 - 120,000 Mexicans dead - makes a saint of death that much more intriguing.

“Paradoxically, a lot of devotees who feel like death could be just around the corner - maybe they’re narcos, maybe they work in the street, maybe they’re security guards who might be gunned down - they ask Santa Muerte for protection.”

Her familiarity and appeal is actually part of the danger of this devotion, Fr. Gutierrez said.

“(Santa Muerte) is literally a demon with another name,” he said. “That’s what it is.”

In his own ministry, Fr. Gutierrez said he has witnessed people who “suffer greatly” following a devotion to the folk saint.

Fr. Gary Thomas, a Vatican-trained exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, told CNA in 2016 that he has also prayed with people who have had demonic trouble after praying to Santa Muerte.

“I have had a number of people who have come to me as users of this practice and found themselves tied to a demon or demonic tribe,” he said.

Fr. Gutierrez noted that while Catholics who attend Mass and the sacraments on a regular basis tend to understand this about Santa Muerte, those in danger are the cultural Catholics who aren’t intentionally engaging in something harmful, but could be opening the door to spiritual harm nonetheless.

Besides her demonic ties, “Santa Muerte” is also a perversion of what the practice of praying to saints is all about, Fr. Ryan Kaup, a Nebraska priest active in Hispanic ministry, told CNA in 2016.

“What we venerate as saints are real people who have chosen this life to follow the will of our Lord and have done great things with their lives, and now they’re in heaven forever, and so that’s why we ask for their intercession,” Kaup said.

“So taking this devotion and this practice that we have of asking for this saint’s intercession and twisting it in such a way as to invoke this glorified image of death is really a distortion of what we believe is true intercession and truly the power of the saints.”

 

 


Pope Francis: Marriage and family have 'an essential mission'


Loreto, Italy, Mar 25, 2019 / 06:38 am (CNA).- On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of family and marriage for society. He also called the Virgin Mary a model for every vocation.

“It is necessary to rediscover the plan drawn by God for the family, to reaffirm its greatness and irreplaceability in the service of life and society,” the pope said March 25, during a visit to the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, Italy.

The Shrine of the Holy House preserves the building where tradition holds the Virgin Mary was born, raised, and greeted by the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Historic documentation shows that the Holy House was brought from Palestine to Italy in the 13th century. The Holy House also holds the statue of Our Lady of Loreto.

The Holy House of Mary is the “home of the family,” Pope Francis said during his visit, noting that “in the delicate situation of today’s world, the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman takes on an importance and an essential mission.”

He said the Holy House is also the home of the young, “because here the Virgin Mary, the young woman full of grace, continues to speak to the new generations, accompanying each one in the search for his vocation.”

“Mary is the model of every vocation and the inspirer of every vocation ministry,” he continued. “Young people who are looking for, or wondering about their future, can find in Mary She who helps them to discern God’s plan for themselves and the strength to adhere to it.”

Mary was a daughter, a betrothed, a bride, and a mother, he noted, and “for this reason, every family, in its different components, finds a refuge here…” in the Holy House.

The pope added that the domestic experience of Mary shows that pastoral care of the family and of young people should not be kept separate, but “must walk closely together,” because young people are highly impacted by their experience of family in their formative years.

During the day-long visit to Loreto, Pope Francis celebrated Mass inside the Holy House, gave a speech and led those present in praying the Angelus.

“The Mother of God does not cease to obtain spiritual benefits in those who, with faith and devotion, come here to pause in prayer,” he said about the Holy House.

After Mass, the pope signed the post-synodal exhortation written following October 2018’s Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment. The document, which is addressed to the young people of the Church, is titled Christus vivit (“Christ lives”) and will be published April 2.

He later greeted the sick and the Capuchin Friars who run the Shrine of the Holy House, thanking them for their devotion to hearing Confessions in the Loreto basilica and for their work at the Loreto St. John Paul II youth center.

He also expressed the desire for John Paul II youth centers to be “relaunched” throughout Italy and around the world and asked the friars to extend the opening hours of the Basilica of the Holy House into the late evening and early night, when groups of young pilgrims are present, so that the place may be available for prayer and vocational discernment.

The pope said: “I think of Loreto as a privileged place where young people can come in search of their vocation, at Mary’s school!”

At the Annunciation, Mary demonstrated the steps one should take to respond to God’s call of vocation: listening to the Word of God, discernment, and decision, he said.

First, Mary listened to the message of the Angel Gabriel. And in response to what the Angel said, she asked, “how can this be?” The pope explained that Mary’s question did not come from a lack of faith, but from a deepening discernment of the Lord’s will and her cooperation in it.

And finally, Mary gives her “yes,” he said, “the ‘yes’ of full trust and total availability to the will of God.”

“There is a need for simple and wise people, humble and courageous, poor and generous. In short, people who, at Mary’s school, welcome the Gospel without reserve in their lives,” Pope Francis said.

“Thus, through the holiness of the people of God, testimonies of holiness in every state of life will continue to spread in Italy, in Europe and in the world, to renew the Church and animate society with the leaven of the Kingdom of God.”


Pope Francis: 'Christianity without tenderness does not work'


Vatican City, Mar 18, 2019 / 01:17 pm (CNA).- Meeting with representatives of a charismatic group dedicated to caring for the sick, Pope Francis on Monday emphasized the need for tenderness as the natural Christian response to human suffering.

The word “tenderness,” Pope Francis warned, is “a word that today risks being dropped from the dictionary.”

“We must take it up again and put it into practice anew. Christianity without tenderness does not work. Tenderness is a properly Christian attitude: it is also the very marrow of our encounter with people who suffer,” he said.

The pope met March 18 with men and women religious from the Camillian Charismatic Family.

Founded by St. Camillus de Lellis in the late 1500s, the Camillians around the world serve the sick, with an emphasis on the poor and dying.

Pope Francis praised those present for their work of “loving and generous donation to the sick, carrying out a precious mission, in the Church and in society, alongside the suffering.”

He encouraged members of the Camillian family to always remember that their charism of mercy toward the sick is a gift from the Holy Spirit, meant to be shared with others.

Charisms, he said, “always have a transitive character: they are orientated towards others. Over the years, you have made efforts to incarnate your charism faithfully, translating it into a multitude of apostolic works and in pastoral service to the benefit of suffering humanity throughout the world.”

St. Camillus de Lellis initially founded an order of men, at a time when active consecrated life for women “had not yet matured,” Pope Francis noted. Two congregations for women were created in the 19th century, and secular institutes were established in the 20th century.

These developments, the pope said, “have given completeness to the expression of the charism of mercy towards the sick, enriching it with the distinctly feminine qualities of love and of care.”

He offered prayers that Mary, Health of the Sick might especially guide and accompany the consecrated women, teaching them maternal dedication and tenderness.

Together, Pope Francis said, these different Camillian groups make up “a single constellation, that is, a ‘charismatic family’ composed of men and women religious, secular consecrated persons and lay faithful.”

“None of these realities is the sole custodian or single holder of the charism, but each receives it as a gift and interprets it and updates it according to his or her specific vocation, in different historical and geographical contexts,” he said. In this way, the different ecclesial bodies all work together “[t]o witness in every time and place Christ’s merciful love towards the sick.”

“At the centre there remains the original charism, as a perennial source of light and inspiration, which is understood and embodied dynamically in the various forms.”

Looking forward, Pope Francis urged the Camillians to be open to new apostolates, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

He instructed them “always to cultivate communion among you, in that synodal style that I have proposed to all the Church, listening to each other and everyone listening to the Holy Spirit, to value the contribution that every single situation offers to the single Family, so as to express more fully the multiple potentialities that the charisma includes.”

Through fidelity to their founder, and by listening to and accompanying those experiencing poverty and suffering today, the pope said, the Camillians “will know how to make light shine, always new, on the gift received; and many young people the world over will be able to feel attracted by and to join with you, to continue to bear witness to God’s tenderness.”