Towering above the shelves and bookcases, her hunter green and blue tinted mantle drapes to the floor. Gold stars and matching gold trim runs across the painted fabric of the cloak.
Her dark rose red dress drapes to the metal rods holding her above the ground. White trim peeks from her wrists and neck. Her hands gently touch in prayer. Her head tilts as her eyes look down tenderly.
She is a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The large figure looms over Jesus Mary and Joseph Ministries, a non-profit and religious store in South Tucson. JMJ Ministries opened in 1995 and is the only 100 percent Catholic religious store in Tucson, selling memorabilia, books, tapes, pictures, postcards and religious jewelry.
Large black and white tiles cover the floor. Three walls are garnished with a multitude of photographs of the pope, saints and Jesus hanging on the cross. Outside the barred windows are cars roaring past the strip mall on South 12th Avenue.
The owner of JMJ Ministries is Gayle Sims. Her necklace of a hundred-plus religious medals jangles as she walks through the maze of bookshelves and baskets in her store.
“We are a one stop shop,” Sims says. “We have always kept our prices low and I just try to accommodate everyone.”
Sims opened the store on the south side out of necessity. She said there were no other Catholic religious stores open in 1995 in South Tucson. Now people travel from all over Arizona and the world to see the store.
“This store is my life,” Sims says. “I am here six days a week and sometimes on Sunday. I just can’t imagine being without it.”
She has traveled around the world on pilgrimages where she has gathered authentic figurines and other objects to sell in the store.
Fifty-nine small boxes are stacked in rows of ten against the front window. Inside each drawer is a cluster of silver saint medals. A small white piece of paper says, “.50 cents each.” Colorful religious prayer cards create a lush rainbow blur as the rotating table they lean on spins.
“On the south side, this is where you come,” says Maria Haros, a returning customer and South Tucson resident. At the time she was looking for a particular rosary.
Large brown woven baskets are filled to the brim with blue, red, white and pink plastic 50 cent rosaries. Large spinning clear cases sit atop a glass counter. They showcase multiple velvet-upholstered palm-size boxes, revealing stone rosaries in orange, pink, turquoise and emerald.
JMJ Ministries offers a variety of Spanish and English language books, prayer cards, pamphlets, magazines and tapes.
“This store is unique because people might not buy anything but they just come in to see what we have,” says David Galaz, vice president of the JMJ Ministries’ non-profit committee.
“What’s special,” he adds, “is that people travel here just to come in and see Our Lady.” The statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, undoubtedly is the centerpiece of the store. A man in Mexico sold it to Sims.
Originally she planned to sell the statue. But one day, a priest from England came into the store and told Sims the statue had a beautiful face. He wanted to bless it.
“Now she is here to stay,” Sims says.
Our Lady sits atop a bolted brass rod cage decorated with metal roses.
As customers walk through the windowpane door, they all look up toward Our Lady and release a smile. As they leave one by one, they look back up at her, take one last look, and then say goodbye.
Alexandra Adamson is a reporter for El Independiente, a magazine produced by the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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