Catholic News Service reports that Miguel Angel Salazar and his brother who grow beans and corn on a small farm outside Culiacan, the prosperous capital of the western agricultural state of Sinaloa, failed to get a good price for their bumper crop four years ago.
So the brothers and their families visited the Jesus Malverde shrine, where they asked the unofficial saint for help. A short time later, they sold their crop for a better-than-expected price. In the years afterward, both their harvests and the prices received remained robust.
Like many in Culiacan - and increasingly in other parts of Mexico, too - Salazar attributes miracles and blessings to Malverde, a controversial figure known as the patron saint of narcotics trafficking, but someone the Church does not recognise.
Followers call Malverde the Robin Hood of Mexico, a mustachioed bandit from the rugged hills of Sinaloa who reputedly stole from the rich and gave to the poor.
Narcotics traffickers claim him as their own and donate heavily to maintain Malverde's shrine, which is across from a McDonald's and near the state legislature in Culiacan, the hub of an area infamous for smuggling activities. Their donations also underwrite celebrations at the shrine every 3 May, the anniversary of Malverde's hanging in 1909.
At the celebration, the traffickers reputedly hire bands that play "narcocorridos," songs glorifying smuggling-related exploits, and the poor receive free food and household items.
Throughout the year, donations fund charity projects, such as paying for the funeral costs for those lacking the resources.
A steady stream of visitors converges on the shrine every year, and most tourist maps provide directions. Many visitors leave Polaroid photos with pithy notes giving thanks to Malverde, and sometimes also to Our Lady of Guadalupe and St Jude.
Others pay for permanent plaques, which speak of "favours received" and in some cases "success in business." The majority of visitors, according to vendors and musicians working at the shrine, are poor.
"All sorts of people come here ... famous people, important people, poor people (and) rich people," said Dona Tere, an elderly woman, hawking Malverde busts at the shrine.
She disputes Malverde's reputation as an icon for only narcotics traffickers, saying he's beloved by the poor. But others in Culiacan hold less favourable views; they include taxi driver Juan Bustamante, who called Malverde "a scoundrel."
Arturo Navarro Ramos, a professor at ITESO, a Guadalajara-area Jesuit university, said that in general "Jesus Malverde's followers are marginalised people," pointing to narcotics traffickers as prime examples.
Due to the sketchy accounts of Malverde's life - even details of his death are disputed - Navarro said Malverde will never be recognised as an official saint.
Little of that seems important to Salazar, who said of Malverde, "A lot of people have faith in him.
"There have been a lot of miracles," he added.
Mexican Robin Hood: Unofficial saint attracts smugglers, the poor (Catholic Online, 3/5/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Jesus Malverde (Wikipedia)
4 May 2007