Worshipping the patron saint of drug traffickers in Mexico

Jesus Gonzales pours whiskey on a bust of Jesus Malverde as an offering and ritual during the procession at the anniversary celebrations of El Santo de los Narcos on May 3, 2016, in Culiacán, Sinaloa, in northwest Mexico. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

CULIACAN, Mexico (RNS) Every year, thousands of people in Culiacan, headquarters of the Sinaloan drug cartel, turn out to venerate a legendary figure who is known as the patron saint of traffickers.

The Catholic Church does not recognize Jesus Malverde in its pantheon of saints. And while he is said to have been born in 1870 as Jesus Juarez Mazo and died in 1909, there are no documents to prove he existed.

Still, on Wednesday (May 3) men, women and children of all ages will march in a procession with a statue of the Robin Hood-like folk hero who is also known as the “Protector of the Narcos.”

With shouts and applause, they will supplicate him with requests for protection, courage and prosperity.

Bundles of money, chains of gold, flowers and oil paintings are some of the tributes offered to Malverde, who draws devotees from afar, including many parts of Mexico as well as across the border from Los Angeles.

The accompanying photo essay shows images from last year’s festival.