The “patron saint” of narcos

The “patron saint” of narcos

Legend has it that he robbed the rich to give to the poor, he died on the gallows and he is revered by ordinary believers and by the Mexican drug cartels. Get to know this unofficial saint in this report by BBC Mundo's special correspondent in Mexico, Carlos Ceresole.

Sonora Market in Mexico City is the city's principal centre selling religious artefacts and esoterica and it's the starting point for our search for Jesús Malverde, the so called "patron saint of drug traffickers".

"He was a man who went about robbing the rich to give to the poor. When the rich folk got together and they killed him... so after that all the poor people he had helped, started to revere him and they made him a saint," explained Karla Pérez, a stallholder in Sonora Market.

The majority of the followers of Malverde are ordinary people, with no connection at all with any criminal activity. Although the cult undoubtedly gained notoriety with the rise of the drug cartels in Mexico, as the hired killers and dealers adopted him as a source of protection and success in their operations. The true faithful do not seem bothered about this shady connection nor do they worry about the bandit history of this little saint or the fact that the Catholic Church does not recognise him.

Shrine

It is believed the cult of Malverde started about 20 years ago on the northern coast of the Pacific and soon spread across the whole country, to the point that today only twenty blocks away from the Presidential Palace, in the Zócalo, there is a shrine to Jesus Malverde and on the third of every month his followers come to commemorate his death.

Ivonne Valdez Pulido is in charge of the Malverde shrine:

"In the beginning about three people came to the first rosary. But now we have many more, and they help us a lot. They bring us things to eat and drink. They really help a lot.

"At each celebration food is given out, in honour of the "saint's" generosity. In Sinaloa - where Jesús Malverde lived and died on the gallows - they even give electrical goods and toys for the children. It is said that much of this is financed by the narcos. But even far away from his home state, there are plenty of pilgrims and northern corridosin his name can be heard everywhere, because everyone has something to ask or thank for and they do it in their own little way."

Ruperto Juan Palacios Cabrera, leader of the group "Los Filosos del Norte", explains his beliefs:

"I really suffered a lot, I struggled with a broken-down accordion. I used to say to myself ´I hope I have some luck one day´. When I found out about Malverde I put my trust in him and now I have four accordions. Now I am very happy and I tell everybody they have to worship Malverde."