As Pope Francis prepares for a five day visit to Mexico, Vatican officials are expressing consternation over the country's growing devotion to Santa Muerte, an unsanctioned "Saint of Death."
The mystical figure which resembles the Grim Reaper dates back to the 18th century, but has exploded in popularity over the last 15 years in Mexico, the United States, and throughout Latin America.
Originally adopted by drug cartels as their proverbial patron saint, Santa Muerte worship is now practiced by a growing number of people who believe that the figure can provide them with help or protect them from harm.
Devotees leave offerings of food and drinks at altars for Santa Muerte and even take part in baptism or wedding ceremonies ostensibly under the auspices of the death saint.
However the Catholic Church does not recognize Santa Muerte and has declared that worshipping the figure is blasphemous.
The strong stance against Santa Muerte has done little to lessen the figure's popularity as it is believed that up to 12 million people now practice some form of worship for icon.
Followers of Santa Muerte insist that their reverence for the figure does not conflict with their Catholic faith, although clearly the Vatican begs to differ.
Whether Pope Francis will address the controversy surrounding Santa Muerte during his visit to Mexico remains to be seen.