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It's not only the crisis but also the types of problems people face these days that have fueled the expansion of the cults. Let's say, for example, that you live in one of the cities along the border taken over by the drug trade and that the crackle of machine-gun fire bursts out every night, filling you with terror of stray bullets. Is it not understandable to pray for protection to someone like the outlaw narco-saint Jesús Malverde, whom drug traffickers revere? Mexicans who retain a strong connection to the Roman Catholic faith might turn instead to St. Jude Thaddeus. At a time when no-win situations abound, he is experiencing a rise in popularity comparable only to that of La Santa Muerte, perhaps because he is known in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of desperate causes.

Fifteen years ago a sun-weathered man named Daniel Bucio first prayed to St. Jude, and six years ago, he says, the saint answered his prayers and granted his mother release from a long and painful illness. Now Bucio comes every month to a listing colonial church called San Hipólito just behind the main tourist corridor in downtown Mexico City to give thanks to a miraculous statue of St. Jude that was donated to the church some 30 years ago. (Historians of the drug trade might be struck by a coincidence: It was about 30 years ago that traffickers from Medellín, Colombia, who are famously devoted to St. Jude, first established trade relations with their Mexican counterparts.) St. Jude's official feast day is October 28, and thousands of his followers feel inspired to come and pray to him on that day every month. Sixteen Masses are celebrated in the parish from dawn to evening, and worshippers crawl to the statue of the saint on their knees, praying for help, protection, and survival. The crowds are so large that police have to cordon off several traffic lanes outside the church.

Daniel Bucio loves these romerías, or reli­gious fiestas, what with the jostling crowds and the street food and the endless parade of statues of St. Jude—some as large as a man can carry, some small but fantastically decorated, like his own, which in obedience to the ancient religious traditions of his hometown is dressed in a glittering ankle-length robe and the feathered headdress of the Aztec emperors. In recent years, though, Bucio's pleasure in the monthly pilgrimage has been spoiled by growing throngs of unsmiling young men and women with tattoos and chains who arrive in groups and push their way through the crowd, often exchanging what look like small, wrapped candies in swift transactions. Bucio thinks he knows what they're up to.

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