With Pope Francis poised to travel to the U.S. later this month, papal memorabilia – some officially sanctioned, some decidedly less so – is filling shelves in East Coast cities, particularly Philadelphia, where more than 1 million are expected to attend an outdoor Mass on September 27. Among the array of promotional products available are mozzarella cheese blocks sculpted into the shape of the Holy See, T-shirts bearing the image of Rocky wearing a mitre and the slogan “Pope Rocks Philly 2015,” and toasters that burn the pope’s image into sliced bread.
“There’s so much product out there it’s unbelievable,” said Scott Soffen, owner of promotional apparel company Clothing Scott in Cherry Hill, NJ. “I think most people have kept it pretty tasteful and nice. It’s a great honor to have the pope come here.”
Soffen launched the site www.faithadelphia.com about six months ago, posting a handful of pope-related T-shirts, including one that boldly declares “Yo Pontiff!” As Soffen explained, “Everyone in Philly goes, ‘Yo.’ It means hello in Philadelphian.” The playfully irreverent tees have moved fairly quickly, with sales in the thousands. “It will sell a lot more in the next week or two,” he said. Soffen’s other popular design features Pope Francis arm-in-arm with retired Flyer Bernie Parent in front of an ice hockey goal, and the quip: “Francis saves Philadelphia.”
Official Pope Francis merchandise for the Philadelphia leg of his trip is being handled through vendor Aramark Corp. and includes commemorative bronze coins produced by Keystone Mint (asi/64760). On one side, the coin shows the pope’s likeness, sculpted by Italian artist Mariangela Crisiotti; the other bears the bell-shaped logo of the Catholic conference, World Meeting of Families, sculpted by South Philadelphia artist Bruno Malone. Keystone created 2,700 3-inch coins and 15,000 1.75-inch versions, according to Patti Smith, national sales manager. “We were honored to be able to do this,” she said. The commission held special meaning for many Catholic staffers, including production manager Ben Maddesi, who was born in Italy, Smith noted. “He has a lot of pride in his work.”
The market for papal-related gear is wide, with the pope’s popularity transcending Catholicism, Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger told The Wall Street Journal. But the window to sell such items is also short. Few consumers are likely to be interested in “Holy Wooder” craft beer and plush pontiff dolls once the pope’s U.S tour concludes.