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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tucson crucifix draws faithful

By Nicole Santa Cruz
Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. For decades, the faithful say, a 1-foot-tall crucifix has been granting the wishes of people in need.

By the thousands, people have come to pray at El Senor de los Milagros Lord of the Miracles a shrine on the side of a one-story stucco home in a working-class Mexican-American neighborhood in Tucson. People have come from as far away as Germany to worship at the shrine, but most visitors come from Arizona and Mexico.

The carved wood sculpture, encased in glass, has been in the Romo family for five generations, said owner Pauline Romo.

The crucifix, which made its way to Tucson from Spain, is sacred in Tucson's Catholic community.

In appreciation, people have built and maintained the shrine for Romo. From the beige tile on the floor to the decorative ironwork painted black and gold, and the black leather benches for people to sit and pray, each component of the patio-like chapel was built by people who said God answered their prayers.

Southern Arizona is dotted with shrines. Often found in front yards or on the side of the road, many consist of just a cross or statue, sometimes decorated elaborately with flowers and candles. Such shrines are a common Mexican Catholic practice and are usually statements of thanks, said Jim Griffith, a retired folklorist who lives in Tucson.

"Tucson is jammed with them," Griffith said. "There are enough that every time I drive a new street in the southwest side of town, I find a new one."

Romo's more elaborate shrine is the site of weekly Masses and each year draws thousands of visitors, many of whom park in the unpaved lot next to Romo's house.

The shrine, Griffith said, is a "focus point for people to come and ask for help."

Romo, 84, is something of a Tucson legend. Her family has lived in the area since 1806. The spunky, auburn-haired woman was a rodeo queen in 1947 and designed jewelry at an elegant downtown shop.

Her shrine began as a result of what she calls a personal miracle.

In the 1970s, Romo was on her lunch break downtown, eating a piece of pineapple pie, when she started throwing up blood. The pie was laden with ground glass later traced to a factory accident and Romo's insides were torn up. Five doctors told her she wouldn't survive.

In the hospital, Romo pleaded with her mother to give her the statue, which had been in the family for generations.

"Give him to me," she recalled saying, "and I will show him to the world."

About 200 stitches and a plastic esophagus later, Romo opened the shrine on the side of her home.

Word spread, and people began to visit Romo's side yard to kneel before the crucifix and pray. Mass is celebrated there each Thursday evening.

Quinceaneras and weddings have been held there, and Romo said she sometimes doesn't even notice.

But what she does notice are the stories of miracles people have shared with her over the years.

There was the 3-year-old from Mexico who was shot in the mouth and had a bullet lodged in the back of her head. Now that child is 30, with a baby of her own. Her father bricked the floor of the shrine in thanks.

"Listen, who lives that gets shot in the mouth?" Romo said. "Tell me. Come on, that's a miracle."

Gesturing around the shrine in the crisp desert wind, Romo said she welcomes everyone, regardless of religious affiliation.

"I don't care how you worship him," she said.