Saturday, March 03, 2007

Archdiocesan Conference for Men and La Santísima Muerte

This morning I headed out to my parish for the first annual archdiocesan men's conference. I hear there were about 250 men there, quite a turn out! Heard some good speakers, including my archbishop, Daniel DiNardo, and the infamous Jim ("Mattress Mack") McIngvale. I also bumped into one of the chip design architects from work; I hadn't ever had the opportunity to talk with him at work, and I wasn't aware that he was Catholic until now. He's part of a rapidly growing posse of Catholics I now know at work... that's so cool :) Bill Cork was also there, and getting rather comfortable in the pulpit :)

Anyway, after the conference, I went and picked up the wife, and we headed out to hit some antique shops in the nearby olde towne of Rosenberg, Texas. While we were there, we happened in to a little shop on one of the old main roads in town, "Herberia La Esparanza", or some such. Noticing the Catholic iconography in the window, I was intrigued, and so we entered.

As soon as we walked through the door, we were overwhelmed by images and statues of "La Santísima Muerte", aka "Santa Muerte", or "St. Death", a somewhat unofficial Mexican folk saint, of sorts -- a devotion peculiar to certain regions of Mexico, largely derived from pre-Christian, Aztec deities that were later syncretized with Christian beliefs; definitely not the easiest Catholic cultural devotion to explain to your average non-Catholic. Here's more from the Seattle Times:
Over the past 20 years, her following has grown so large that in some parts of Mexico she is becoming a rival in popular affection to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the manifestation of the Virgin Mary that is the reigning symbol of Mexican national identity.

"She is a Virgin of Guadalupe in negative: That which one can't ask of the Virgin, one can ask of her," says Homero Aridjis, a poet, novelist and former Mexican diplomat who recently published a short-story collection about La Santa Muerte's mysterious and firm grip on the Mexican soul.
As you might've guessed, at this point my latent Protestant senses were tingling uncontrollably. Indeed, I have read a little about this particular devotion in the past, and coming from California, I had heard about it... Bloggers have blogged on it. However, I had never come face to face before with St. Death. None of my Mexican-American friends embraced this devotion, even though they observed other related customs, such as the Dia de los Muertos.

I believe the male form of "Holy Death" is usually depicted as a Grim Reaper looking character, complete with white skull, red eyes, scales, long, flowing robes, and a very large, raised scythe. Aside from this, there were fairly typical things in the store: holy cards, statues, candles, etc... Within the devotion to St. Death, one can certainly find solidly Christian folks. One can also find those folks who, well, lean pagan. So I wasn't too surprised to find other items further inside the store reflecting various aspects of pagan/catholic syncretism from south of the border: Potions, herbs, oils, love and good luck incense and sprays, and an assortment of gold talismans. To our amazement, we also saw Buddha statues.

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