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Papal kitsch didn’t begin with Pope Francis—UPDATED

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 08/29/15

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A few observers have marveled that the visit of Pope Francis has sparkeda rush on kitschy souvenirs: 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which will host the meeting, feels that the more lighthearted items are very appropriate to the fun-loving cleric and the joyfulness of the occasion, according to Joan Doyle, a retail consultant to cultural organizations who was hired by the WMF to advise on official souvenirs. “We had workshops with various stakeholders,” she says, “including representatives from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – bishops and so forth — to make sure we understood what kind of products they wanted.” Doyle says the church and WMF have a sense of humor about the items. “They actually do,” she laughs. “It’s my understanding that the Vatican actually sells the bobblehead. And I have the lifesize cutout in my office, while the World Meeting uses one for photo ops and selfies. It’s hugely popular!” And the plush doll? “Frankly, that’s charming – a charming way to introduce a child to the Holy Father.”

You can see some other Francis memorabilia here and here.

But people have short memories. Here’s a New York Times article from 2008, ahead of Pope Benedict’s visit to these shores:

The sale of souvenirs of the visit should generate some money but not enough to make a sizable dent in the cost of the trip, representatives of the archdioceses said. At events in the two cities and online, at popevisit2008.com, people can buy memorabilia, including framed photos of the pope, T-shirts that say “Property of Pope Benedict XVI,” and “I the Pope” bumper stickers. The retail chain Build-a-Bear is offering, online and at its stores in the Washington area, a “tiny tee” for its bears with the visit’s logo and the pope’s picture. A company spokeswoman declined to say how much money had been raised by the sale of the shirts, which cost $6, but part of it will go to Christ Our Hope.

And Francis wasn’t the first pope to be immortalized in a life-sized cutout for the “selfie” culture, either, as the Times photo shows:

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You want bobbleheads? Okay.

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How about a Benny Bear?

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Before then, there was even a Pope John Paul II plush doll:

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Further evidence, if any were needed, that this sort of hucksterism has been around for a while.

UPDATE: A few years ago, Beliefnet did a comprehensive survey of papal kitsch in advance of Benedict’s visit. As with Francis, someone manufactured beer in his honor, too.

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