By Luis Hernandez
JUAREZ, MEXICO — Just a few steps from the historic cathedral devoted to the Virgin of Guadalupe in downtown Juárez, the Mercado Cuauhtémoc shopping center houses stores that specialize in the sale of paraphernalia dedicated to a different holy entity they call Santa Muerte.
Like any Sunday, the main plaza and its different mercados in the historic heart of the border city of Juárez are rich with activity and flowing with movement.
This is in complete contrast to other sectors of the city where businesses are run down or abandoned, lacking clientele, who fear the violence currently plaguing the city.
These shops dedicated to the sale of various goods depicting Santa Muerte – the Saint of Death or just Holy Death – are mixed in with other shops that sell everything from produce and clothing, to electronic goods.
In these shops you can find statues and amulets adorned with the saint’s image and you also can say a prayer to her in one of the mini-worship spots set aside in the shops to venerate “La Huesuda” or “the skeletal saint” as it is also known.
A small private altar, discreetly hidden behind a thin purple curtain, awaits patrons who wish to worship the saint, sharing their personal pleas, prayers and hopes with it.
“People ask it for help finding a job, love, protection and good health,” says the owner of a shop that also sells more “traditional” religious merchandize.
The inner walls of the small altar-room are covered with offerings, from cigars, candy, photographs of dead loved ones and other trinkets designed to thank the saint for its assistance.
For some time now, the sales of the Santa Muerte have greatly surpassed those of more traditional figures, like that of Christ and the Virgin Mary and other saints officially recognized by the Catholic church, said the owner of several of these shops, who wished to remain anonymous. “I have sold this type of merchandise for more than a decade now,” he said.
With some satisfaction in his voice, he described how his business hasn’t been affected by the current violence. He attributes this to the fact that people who still visit the city of Juárez have kept up a steady demand for religious iconography.
“People ask me how is Juárez? Can they come and visit? And I tell them…