AVONDALE — The shop address is on Western Avenue, but its backyard clearly paves the road to a well-known site in the Holy Land: Calvary.
The latest upgrade to Universal Cup Coffee shop — which sits across the street from Hill Drive — features meditative reminders of Jesus’ journey to His death. Installation of the 14 Stations of the Cross was a no-brainer for co-owners James and Milinda Sinohui.
They wanted the outside of their shop to reflect as much of their Catholic identity as the inside does. The couple already blended elements of their faith into the shop’s logo emblazoned on aprons, shirts and the wall before it opened last November. An ever-growing array of religious artwork and merchandise from Arizona Catholic vendors fill up the shop’s rooms. They complement the crucifix that hangs in the café’s living room of sorts and the image of a papal flag near the register.
The Catholic presence out back is pretty obvious now too. The Stations of the Cross wind along the outer and inner loops of Universal Cup Coffee’s abundant garden — the fruits of which grace the menu’s smoothies, sandwiches and more. The 11th station is fairly central.
A thick wooden crucifix extends out of two rows of thoughtfully decorated cinder blocks. The word “love” overwrites one of the seven deadly sins on each one.
James said the red and black blocks show how sin brings darkness to your life. “What stops it all ultimately is love,” he said.
It’s a love for their faith and their customers that inspired the Sinohuis to make the Stations of the Cross a community effort. Ten contributors — families, a band, a vendor and others — from the West Valley and as far away as north Phoenix adopted at least one station to bring to life in the garden. Not all of them had artistic tendencies either, but consulted the expertise of those who did or relied on the Holy Spirit to guide them.
“The only guidelines that we gave families were dimensions,” James said. The Sinohuis wanted each station to consume a significant portion of space around the long side of each shin-height garden bed.
“It was really up to the families to interpret what they wanted that to look like,” Milinda added.
The Mendoza family knew one thing for sure when they heard the call out on Facebook about the project: they were called to get involved. The family loves doing things that bring the Lord to others. The parents told the kids and 11-year-old Adison immediately shouted, “the Crucified Jesus!” as their chosen station.
“We all agreed with her because, what greater love is there than to give your life for another?” David Mendoza, Jr., the dad, told The Catholic Sun.
Any time they visit Universal Cup Coffee, all four kids (ages 4-11) run to the 12th station to see how it’s holding up. Their station presents two simple wooden crosses. One announces Jesus’ death using wording from the family’s “Stations of the Cross” book and includes a Christogram plus the message “Peace be With You” while the other depicts an engraved crucified Jesus.
“The image of Jesus crucified has always been in my mind and somehow I was able to carve it out,” Mendoza said. It was his first carving.
Their 9-year-old picked out the wood and the stain. Mendoza’s wife held the wood while he carved.
“My two youngest (4-year-old twins) helped by always reminding me I had work to do on the cross,” he said.
It became a three-day project and was providentially installed at 3 p.m. — the hour of mercy — that final day.
“We definitely feel like the Lord called us to go a little bit deeper to what His crucifixion is,” Mendoza said.
Seeing the other stations has too. Some of the kids immediately noticed the 10th station, particularly the depiction of blood on the tangible crown of thorns. A reminder of Jesus’ bloody garment lies nearby.
Other stations show traditional colored images of Jesus’ walk to Calvary while some include typed reflections to allow guests to better reflect on that particular moment of Christ’s life and made available small devotional trinkets at the station as a gift. The Sinohuis also have bilingual pamphlets available that reflect on all 14 Stations of the Cross.
“We wanted to provide another opportunity for those who couldn’t make it to parish Stations [of the Cross]. We wanted to allow it to bring together small families and teach them,” said Milinda, a mother of three girls — ages 12, 14 and 16 — plus a rotating array of newborns to 3-year-olds in foster care.
Togetherness is precisely why Maria and Jerry Peña and their family got involved. The St. Thomas Aquinas parishioners said they have a “large, active family.”
“It’s not always possible to go to church to pray the stations,” Maria and Jerry told Universal Cup Coffee. “With the stations at the UC Shop, my family and I can enjoy the beauty of the practice in a casual, family-friendly environment.”
Kyle and Katie Aitken, also St. Thomas Aquinas parishioners, created the third and 13th stations with their two children as a way to give back to their favorite coffee shop and its customers. They were rookies, but embraced the opportunity and the family togetherness it brought.
James Sinohui hopes customers view the Stations of the Cross “as a stepping stone in their journey or sparks conversation for others.”
He has already seen how small reminders of the faith inside Universal Cup Coffee can make a difference including a Protestant man and one of his own family members.
“We’re quickly learning it’s a ministry, not a business,” James said.