Pope Inc.: Francis' U.S. Visit Inspires Souvenir Sellers

by Tracy Connor /  / Updated 

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More than a million people are expected to converge on Philadelphia this fall to see Pope Francis — but if you can't make the trip, don't fret. For just $20, you can have the pontiff over for dinner.

That's the price of a table-top cardboard cutout of the popular Catholic leader that's being hawked by the group organizing Francis' two-day September swing through the City of Brotherly Love.

It's just one of the quirky souvenirs that are being churned out to mark the pope's visit — which also includes stops in New York and Washington — that's still months away.

Matthew Hoffman is president of a Philadelphia company called Bleacher Creatures that makes plush figures of sports and comic book heroes. The firm recently decided to expand into political and historical figures, and picked the pope to kick off the new line.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter displays a Pope Francis doll.Matt Rourke / AP

It got 1,000 orders for the $19.99 dolls in the first two weeks — a sign, as Hoffman sees it, of Francis' broad-based popularity and the growing excitement about his U.S. debut.

"He's sort of changed what the pope is in a positive way," he said. "I don't think you have to be Catholic. He's inclusive. He's open-minded. He's progressive."

Bob Scocozzo, owner of Mia Bella Candles, said he got the idea of pope-themed merchandise from his daughter, who attends Cabrini College and will be volunteering during the visit.

His workers have been pouring candles embossed with Francis's face and then hand-painting his facial features and glasses on each one.

"My goal is to sell a million — there are a lot of Catholics out there," said Scocozzo, who plans to donate 40 percent of the proceeds to two religious organizations.

"I'm a Catholic on Christmas and Easter, but I love this guy," he said.

Image: Candle
Painted wax sculptures of Pope Francis wait to be attached to candle bases at Scent-sations, Inc., in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.John Brecher / NBC News

The World Meeting of Families, which is the reason for the pope's trip, has partnered with Aramark to sell official souvenirs, which will help underwrite the $45 million budget for the event. The items, which go on sale Wednesday, include rosary beads and commemorative china.

But there's plenty of kitsch up for grabs, too. The Philly Team Store has designed a kelly-green T-shirt that shows the Catholic leader — and lifelong soccer fan — waving a banner that says "Go Birds" against the slogan "The Pope Knows." Store manager Rob Calabrese said he's pretty sure that if Francis followed football and the NFL, he'd be an Eagles fan.

"He can empathize with worldly suffering," he said.

Aramark CEO Eric Foss walks to the podium past a cutout of Pope Francis.Matt Rourke / AP

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