Owner of religious shrine near Bisbee talks about vandalism

Published: Aug. 11, 2017 at 2:21 PM MST|Updated: Aug. 11, 2017 at 3:29 PM MST
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(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)

BISBEE, AZ (Tucson News Now) - If you drive too fast, you might not notice it.

A roadside shrine in Cochise County stands only about 8 feet tall. It's painted white with a cross on top.

But Bill Howard notices it every day. He owns the property where the Madrid Family Shrine sits, and also notices when its 66 years of history is ruined.

"It's just a meeting place for a lot of nice, good people," Howard said Thursday. "And that's what really upsets me when I see something like that happen. There's no point in it. There's no reason for it."

What happened is something Howard said he has to "put up with."

Cochise County Sheriff's deputies are still looking for the people who damaged the place of worship.

According to a news release, deputies learned of the vandalism on Monday, Aug. 7.

Deputies arrived at the religious shrine on State Route 80, near Milepost 335, to find a large statue of the Virgin Mary had been broken off at its base, and that the top portion was missing. There were three other smaller statues that also had their heads removed and were missing from the area.

A desecrated shrine remains at this remote place of worship, when parishioners can't make it to Deacon Anthony Underwood's church - St. Patrick's Parish in Bisbee.

"It may be located on Highway 80 but to many people in this community, and this region, it rests solidly in their hearts," said Underwood, who is also Howard's son-in-law. "It's their connection of faith while they're on the road."

That connection is strong, according to Howard, who said that the shrine will sometimes attract 200 people to his driveway on any given day.

Even though it is operated and cared for by volunteers in the community, Howard feels responsibility for it. He told Tucson News Now he is not the most religious of people, but he understands its value to people in the area.

Underwood said that although vandalism occurs at the shrine, and can be a nuisance for his father-in-law, he sees no instance where Howard would remove the shrine from his property.

"He respects that they use this as a means of living their faith," Underwood said. :He would never do anything to want to change that or cause them any grief."

Volunteers in the community are already stepping forward to rebuild the shrine, Underwood said. An effort to make the local landmark, dedicated in 1951, as good as new.

"This is their way of expressing their faith, helping to restore something that is very important - not only to them but to other Catholics and Christians in this community," he said.

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