Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Monday 02 August |
Saint of the Day: St. Peter Julian Eymard

Papal kitsch didn’t begin with Pope Francis—UPDATED

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 08/29/15


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, 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:


You want bobbleheads? Okay.


How about a Benny Bear?


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


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.


Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
Simone Biles leaves the Olympics with an important lesson for her...
Ignacio María Doñoro
Francisco Veneto
The military chaplain who pretended to be a criminal to rescue a ...
Cerith Gardiner
Gold-winning Filipina Olympian shares her Miraculous Medal for th...
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
Zelda Caldwell
German women’s gymnastics teams modest dress protests sport’s ...
Violeta Tejera
Carlo Acutis’ first stained glass window in jeans and sneak...
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
See More