Narcos, Police Unite in Adoration of ‘Warrior Saint’ in Brazil

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A growing number of Rio de Janiero’s faithful — ranging from drug traffickers to police officers — are reportedly praying to a “warrior saint” for protection, a possible response to the difficulties authorities have faced in reigning in the city’s violence.

Saint George, also known as the warrior saint, has a growing following in Rio de Janiero, where criminals and law enforcement officials alike pray to him to keep them safe from danger, reported BBC Mundo

“Here in Brazil, we are experiencing high levels of violence. Those devoted to Saint George seeks protection from evil spirits, assaults, and murders,” a local priest told BBC Mundo. 

Saint George is typically depicted on horseback and clad in medieval armour, and is celebrated by various Christian Churches on April 23. That day is an official holiday in Rio de Janeiro, with masses and processions taking place across the state. 

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Saint George’s popularity in Rio is arguably tied to lack of confidence that the government will keep citizens safe from crime. “Now that we can’t have faith in the politicians, we need faith in someone,” one believer told the BBC.

There is reason for such pessimism. Following the installation of Rio’s police pacification units (UPP) in 2008, violence in the city has dropped significantly. However, gangs have reportedly regained influence in some of the territories they lost due to the pacification program, and murder rates in at least one Rio favela climbed considerably last year. Recent police violence against innocents in Rio — including the killing of a 10-year old boy — has led to massive protests in the city over how authorities are combating insecurity.

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Meanwhile, the high number of police officers killed in Rio from confrontations with gangs means that law enforcement is also likely looking for divine protection.  

Saint George’s dual patronage of police officers and drug traffickers is not unique to Rio. This phenomenon “mirrors Santa Muerte’s role in Mexico and parts of Central America as patroness of both narcos and law enforcement,” Andrew Chesnut, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of the book “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” told InSight Crime.

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