Shrine to 'Drug Saint' Jesus Malverde Erected in Mexico City

A family has built what could be the first public shrine in Mexico City to Jesus Malverde, Mexico's so-called "narco-saint" revered by many of the nation's drug traffickers.

Malverde, whose original shrine is located in the city of Culiacan in northern Sinaloa state — considered the cradle of Mexico's top drug clans — is a controversial figure.

The accounts of the true life of Malverde differ, with him being portrayed as a railway worker or a construction worker who became a bandit before being hanged in Culiacan in 1909.

Supporters say he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor. Critics say he has become a symbol of crime.

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Many drug traffickers carry symbols of him and Mexican prison cells are often decorated with his image.

Maria Alicia Pulido Sanchez, the Mexico City housewife who erected the glass-encased shrine with a mannequin representing Malverde on a sidewalk in the rough Doctores neighborhood in November, said she did it because Malverde helped poor people.

"He wasn't a drug trafficker. He was what you might call a thief, but he helped his community," Pulido Sanchez said on Monday.

The life-size mannequin shows Malverde in wearing his trademark neckerchief, a gold chain with a bejeweled pistol charm and a huge belt buckle with a gun motif.

The figure's pockets are stuffed with dollar bills, which Pulido Sanchez says were donated by worshippers, who also leave candy, cigarettes and glasses of wine at the shrine.

Malverde isn't recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, but Pulido Sanchez says that doesn't matter.

"We make saints by the power of our belief," she said. "We can believe in anyone who fulfills our petitions."

She says lawyers, policemen and "men with big bunches of jewelry" visit the shrine, as well as housewives, secretaries "and people from every walk of life."

Pulido Sanchez said she was inspired to build the shrine after her son Marcos Abel recovered from the injuries he suffered in a December 2005 car crash in just three days when she prayed to a Malverde statue a friend had given her.

There is also a small shrine to Malverde outside the border city of Tijuana, and while some private homes or businesses here have small altars to him, there hasn't apparently been any public street-side shrine in Mexico's capital until now.

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