At San Hipólito, on the 28th of every month, distinct smells and odors clash as riotously as do beliefs. Inside the 17th century church in the heart of Mexico City, the calming aromas associated with traditional Catholic places of worship -- burning candles, incense, wooden pews -- permeate the air. But outside the atmosphere is acrid with the stench of industrial solvents and cheap inhalants -- dangerous and volatile, like the souls of the recently converted true believers in this, the cult of Saint Jude Thaddeus.
You see, almost all Mexicans believe in fate but some also have an unswerving belief in a pantheon of saints, like Saint Jude, who successfully rectify the injustices of their individual destiny. For many who believe that fate has dealt them a bad hand, petitioning your special saint for health, a job, or help in personal affairs -- legal or illegal, moral or immoral -- is as Mexican as mariachis and mordidas.
These followers encompass all ages but they don’t come from all walks of life. They arrive here each month on foot or in public transportation from the inner-city barrios and marginalized neighborhoods that ring the city -- breeding grounds for the desperation that feeds the growing cult.
Here, the syncretism floats in the thin air like a dark and ominous cloud of hopelessness. Is this the future of Catholicism and the last chance of millions of Mexico’s disaffected youth, who, spurned by ineffectual institutions, gather with little dogma and a surplus of expectations for the saint of lost causes?
Young seekers, whose families and even other saints have seemingly shut out, are welcomed with open arms by the Claretian missionaries. Those with no where else to turn and little in their pockets will always find solace and refuge in the end-of-the-month congregation of Jude Thaddeus at San Hipolito. Membership only requires the very basic of the accoutrements of the growing cult -- a scapular or statue of Saint Jude and a small yellow bottle containing PVC cleaner. One, tightly embraced as an icon of hope; the other inhaled to stave off, if only temporarily, the reality firmly embedded in lives with little or no promise.