Robert Kovacik & Phil Drexler
Santa Muerte, the Angel of Death, is one word to most : “Satanic.” But to a group of Angelenos, she is revered as "La Nina," "La Madrina" and "La Madre." John Cadiz Klemack reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on May 23, 2012.
Outside a storefront shop on Melrose in Hollywood, Santa Muerte is revered by her followers as "La Nina," “La Madrina” and "La Madre." She is one word to most others: "Satanic."
It's not secretive; in fact, they welcome just about anyone willing to come in with an open mind.
Roel Hinojosa arrived for his first visit after reading up on Santa Muerte online.
“I drove by here one day, and I saw the sign,” he said, “and I remembered my grandparents in Texas talking about some of this.”
Devotion to Santa Muerte has been around for generations in Mexico, and not always in a good way.
Last week, eight members of the same family were charged with murder after prosecutors claimed they killed two ten-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman as an offering to Santa Muerte.
She has been linked to drug lords, narcs, murderers and moms. But in Los Angeles, devotees attempt to dissociate themselves from their extremist counterparts.
“We are not here to kill our brothers, we’re here to help them,” said the man called Professor Sisyphus, spiritual leader of the temple. “From fans to fanaticism is only one step, but it’s the other side of the coin.”
The legends and links of Mexican crime don’t scare Hinojosa.
“This isn’t Mexico, and it’s my understanding this religion is practiced differently this side of the border,” he said.
There is faith among the devotees that cannot be shaken.
“Above all, your faith is going to take you as far as you want it to go,” said Nancy Sanchez, who said she’s part of the fringe members who came to worship Santa Muerte after falling on hard times.
“I was in jail, and I prayed to get out as soon as possible,” Sanchez said. “The guidance and protection and help, it’s amazing, it’s beautiful.”
That beauty might be up for interpretation. Inside Templo Santa Muerte, skeletons stand by the altar, stone faced, in black or white dresses, surrounded by crucifixes and knives; an offering of eggs, tobacco, vodka and wilting flowers are laid at her feet.
“Santa Muerte is the Angel of Death,” the Professor said. “They say we are a cult. Yes, and what’s a service or mass in the Catholic Church? A cult.”
But the Catholic Church in Los Angeles is quick to step away from any talk of Santa Muerte.
Father Dario Miranda, a priest at St. Rose of Lima Church in Maywood calls the devotion to Santa Muerte "evil in disguise."
He said her followers are confused and misinformed.
"This is not acceptable," he said. "This is not Christian; it is not Catholic, certainly."
Masses at the temple are broadcast live over the internet. The congregation ranges from men and women to the very young and the very old.
And they sing and chant and pray to a spirit they say was created by God himself, mentioned at various times in the Bible and grants wishes of those who believe with strong faith that she is by their side.
Whether sanctioned or not by other religions, whether connected or not to Mexican gangs, Santa Muerte and her Angel of Death spirit is in Los Angeles and uniting a community living their lives in anticipation of their deaths.
“We do believe in God,” said Professor Sisyphus. “We adore Jesus, but we are the voice of Santa Muerte.”