A battle between “good and evil” at the border
Law enforcement continues to battle cartel operatives worshiping saint of death
(The Center Square) – What’s happening at the border is a spiritual battle between good and evil, retired Border Patrol agent Frank Lopez Jr., argues.
He and others in law enforcement have combatted crime coming through the border connected to a cartel-connected worship of a “saint of death.”
“We must not lose sight of the spiritual battle at the border,” Lopez, a Republican who’s running for Congress in the 23rd Congressional District, said. “People of faith need to understand what’s happening and get involved politically as much as they can to make a difference.”
Lopez, an ordained minister, served in the military before working as a U.S. Border Patrol agent for 30 years. He was also the first chaplain to serve in Border Patrol.
Ranchers along the southern border are increasingly finding shrines on their properties, as are law enforcement officers raiding stash houses. They have doll-sized skeletons depicting a “Grim Reapress,” which is clothed in a hooded robe, carrying a scythe in one hand and a globe in the other.
Known as “Santa Muerte,” or the “Saint of Death,” she represents death. Those who worship her believe she brings “Santísima Muerte” or the “holiest death.”
She’s known among law enforcement as the folk “patron saint” of cartels and gangs. Texas DPS troopers and sheriffs have explained to The Center Square that cartel operatives pray to her for protection to successfully commit their crimes, including the trafficking and smuggling of weapons, people and drugs.
According to an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, “Santa Muerte ideology has developed in Mexico for approximately a half century and has spread into the United States and Central America. The cult’s popularity has increased with its ties to illicit narcotics trafficking in Mexico in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a ‘saint of last resort,’ Santa Muerte always has had a following among those who live in extreme circumstances.”
One key aspect of cartel and gang culture is the belief in a “holy death” that involves ritualistic killings, the FBI explains. Due to the dangerous nature of being a cartel foot soldier or gang associate, worshipers will pray to Santa Muerta for the death of their enemies, for protection from harm, or “a quick and glorious death,” the FBI explains.
The Vatican has denounced Santa Muerta as a saint and not all who worship her are reportedly connected to cartels, according to several news reports, including of a popular shrine located in Ciudad Acuña in the Mexican state of Coahulia across from Del Rio, Texas. Vanguard Mexico reports her worshipers are part of a “cult that has proliferated throughout Mexico,” including worshiping her during the “Day of the Dead” celebration held Nov. 1-2.
Millions of people from Latin America, including those illegally entering the U.S., pray to the skeleton idol, Virginia Commonwealth University Professor R. Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D., explains in “Devoted to Death.” In 2012 at the time of its publishing an estimated roughly 10 to 12 million people prayed to Santa Muerta worldwide.
In a 2020 International Journal of Latin American Religion, he argued her worshipers see her as a healer and comprise “the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.” He also rejects the “narco-saint” characterization, which he says is “erroneously portrayed by the press” and a “fallacious depiction.”
While the United States protects religious freedom, Lopez said, those worshiping the idol appear to be celebrating death, which correlates to crime at the border and further into the U.S. He also says defending the U.S. border is a spiritual issue.
He says, “God appointed the land of the nations and the boundaries,” referring to one of his favorite passages of the Bible in Acts 17:26-27.
“We are in a spiritual battle,” Lopez said. “The border is being invaded and that is an affront to the Living God.” Not securing the border is “disobedience to his word.”
“America is in trouble. What you are seeing pour through the border is the tip of the iceberg. What happens on the border does not stay at the border. It goes into the heartland of America,” he said, referring to a range of crimes being committed.
“Lawlessness accompanies darkness, which is being used by cartels to facilitate human misery,” he said. “We as Americans must stand for truth to combat evil.”
Rev. Dave Welch, president of the Texas Pastor Council, agrees. He told The Center Square, “The first priority of any nation’s government is the personal safety and security of its citizens, as per Romans 13” of the Bible. “We become a nation of crime and lawlessness when the entry to the nation is wide open as it is in the United States with an Executive Branch refusing to enforce our just laws.”
The pastor’s council plans to educate pastors this year about ways they can get involved to support securing the border, he said.
From Jan. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2023, more than 10 million people illegally entered the U.S., The Center Square first reported. Roughly 1.7 million of them evaded capture; officials have no idea who or where they are. A record more than 1.9 million illegally entered Texas in fiscal 2023, The Center Square also exclusively reported.