MEXICO CITY - At the beginning of each month in the Mexico City neighborhood of Morelos dozens of followers of the country's "Santa Muerte," or "Saint Death," cult bring offerings to a shrine featuring the grim reaper figure.
People crawl on their knees and leave tequila, rum, beer, cigarettes, cash, flowers and candy at the shrine, which is one of the most popular in the city. It was set up 14 years ago by Enriqueta Romero after her son gave her a "Saint Death" figure.
The Catholic Church frowns on the cult, whose origins may be traced back to Aztec and Mayan death-gods or to ancient European traditions, but many devotees call themselves Catholics.
"They should not judge us, speak badly about us," said Romero. "We are not Satanists. We don't worship the devil. I am not a witch. I am not evil. But I do have a lot of faith."
Victor Alejandro Paya, a sociology professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said the cult first emerged in prisons and city slums where rates of violence and crime are very high.
He believes the “Saint Death” cult, which experts say has millions of followers, will continue to spread as sections of society are marginalized by drug violence and poverty.