The grassy medians at South Lawn Cemetery are "Veteran Islands." The island plots were developed in 1987 and purchased by veterans' organizations for vets and their families. Burial in the medians is an honor.

Several years ago, Josefina Cardenas sent her husband up the side of "A" Mountain off South Mission Road with a rosary and a note in hand.

Luis Javier Cardenas walked up the steep pathway and left both in a small grotto where a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe stood on the slope.

The note was for the person who put the statue there - Josefina wanted to learn about the shrine. The note had the Cardenas' address in Barrio Kroeger Lane, a rustic neighborhood just west of Interstate 10 and north of 22nd Street.

Soon afterward, Pancho Murrietta came to the Cardenas family's home and shared his story:

On Father's Day in 1993, he put the Virgin of Guadalupe in the grotto as thanks for his release from the Pima County jail, where he had been locked up for a crime he says he did not commit. Murrietta explained that his prayers were answered when police found a witness who confirmed Murrietta was innocent, said Josefina, recalling the story. Since then, others have put images of saints, the Blessed Mother and Jesus in the grotto.

People walk up and pray for their special intentions, said Cardenas, who prays the rosary usually at the base of the mountain below the shrine.

Her husband and sons, Daniel and Ismael, clean the grotto four to six times a year. Over the years, vandals have smashed the religious statues and candles left there by people of faith after completing pilgrimages to the shrine, Cardenas said.

The images are quickly replaced by people who walk up to the shrine to pray.

In 2007, Jose Sanchez installed a solar light at the shrine because he no longer could walk up at night to light a candle and pray, a daily act since 1995. It was in thanks for a successful operation at Tucson Medical Center in which a benign tumor was removed from the right side of his brain.

A smaller shrine, about 100 yards from the shrine, also created by Murrietta, was established several years ago. The Cardenas family does not know the history behind it. It, too, began with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and other images have been added through the years. Someone also installed solar lights at the site.

For those who can't walk up the steep paths to both shrines, Cardenas suggests the people remain at the base of the mountain to pray. In 2002, she said, she received a letter from now-deceased Bishop Manuel D. Moreno of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson in support of the construction of a chapel at the base of the mountain. Cardenas said she has not given up on that project or the possibility of a multicultural center to preserve the history of the area and the shrines.

Anyone interested in helping can reach Josefina Cardenas at 971-6490.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or