Organized crime harms culture, Italian cardinal says on visit to Mexico

Mexico City, May 9 (EFE).- Organized crime "is anti-culture" and sects associated with criminal activities, such as Mexico's Holy Death sect, are "blasphemous," Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi said during a visit to Mexico.

"Organized crime is not culture, it is anti-culture. It cancels out the great values in social, human and personal relations," Ravasi, who is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said in a press conference at the Soumaya Museum.

Fighting organized crime requires more than just a law enforcement response from the state, Ravasi, who is close to Pope Francis, said.

"The critical element is education, the formation of a new human model" based on a "diversified" and "diffuse" culture, the cardinal said.

Countries plagued by violence, like Mexico, must be more inclusive in attracting "the younger generations" and making it clear "that the mafia, drug trafficking (and) organized crime are not religious entities nor do they (have anything to do with) religion, even if they use the Holy Death," Ravasi said.

The Holy Death sect, which claims to have 5 million members around the world, has its principal church in Mexico City.

In recent years, the sect has spread across Mexico, including to the U.S. border region, where followers erect altars, make offerings and ascribe miracles to it.

Mexican police say several drug lords number among the sect's adherents, as altars and images of the Holy Death have been discovered in drug raids.

The war on drugs launched by former President Felipe Calderon, who was in office from 2006 to 2012, left about 70,000 people dead, or an average of 32 per day, in Mexico, officials say.

Calderon, of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, deployed thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to fight drug cartels.