Members of a Bolivian cult that reveres human skulls held a rite Thursday in La Paz to close out the festivities for El Día de los Muertos, the Roman Catholic festival in honor of the dead.
About 300 people carrying skulls walked into the chapel of the capital’s largest cemetery to attend the hour-long ceremony -- a strange mixture of Andean and Catholic rites.
Followers believe skulls have miraculous powers and grant them favors that range from finding a job to helping their favorite soccer team win. They pay homage to their skulls by offering them music, prayer and food.
Although the cult is rejected by the Catholic Church, the number of followers has kept growing over the years.
Five years ago, the Archdiocese banned the skulls blessing, saying it was a distortion of faith. So on Thursday the ceremony was brief, with priest Jaime Fernandez wearing only a stole and saying a quick prayer for the soul of the skulls. "Our faith is for God, not for heads (skulls)," he said, after which he disappeared through a door of the chapel and let believers sprinkle holy water on their trophies.
Skulls were often conserved as trophies during pre-Hispanic times and used in rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. But during the colonization of America, evangelizers applied cruel tortures to those indigenous practicing these rites, considering idolatry.
Catholicism is Bolivia’s main religion, but the Constitution that went into effect in 2009 declared religious freedom and admits ancient beliefs, which have since become more visible in Bolivian society.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.
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