Just when you thought he couldn’t get any more popular, Pope Francis ups the ante. The 77-year-old pontiff, rounding the corner to his one-year-anniversary at the helm of the Catholic church, is now the subject of a supermarket aisle fanzine called Il Mio Papa or “My Pope” complete with a smiley centerfold pin-up style photo of the pope clad in windswept vestments.
The 66-page color magazine, which is starting with a print run of 500,000 a week and costs just 50 cents, is the brainchild of Silvio Berlusconi’s Mondadori publishing arm, which has a string of gossip rags dedicated to Italian starlets and glitterati. In his debut editorial, Il Mio Papa’s editor in chief Aldo Vitali explained that the magazine was different from the rest of the Mondadori line and that it is intended for “those who believe” and for “nonbelievers who see in this man a hope for the future.”
The magazine debuted on Italian newsstands on Ash Wednesday—the kickoff to the Easter Lenten season, which is always a feel-good moment for the church as thousands of Catholics descend on Rome to celebrate the important date on the Catholic calendar.
My Pope features will include “Seven Days with the Pope” filled with colorful paparazzi style shots of a week in the life of the pope, including a shot of him during his weekly Sunday angelus and people clamoring to get a phone photo of the pontiff as he tools around St. Peter’s square. The premier issue also featured the pope’s best tweets and a popular shot of a crying child dressed as a pope for his Carnival costume in the pope’s arms that went viral on Twitter last week. There is even a news feature section which, in the first edition, highlighted the pope’s February 28 fever that caused him to cancel an audience in Rome and the opening of the pontifical gardens in Castelgandolfo since he isn’t using the grounds like his predecessors did. There are also spreads with seldom-seen photos of the papal digs and his casual dining table inside the simple hotel where he lives on Vatican grounds. Each edition of the magazine will include a new chapters to be torn out and collected to form a book of the Pope Francis papacy. The first naturally begins with his election one year ago March 13 and a brief look at his life in Argentina.
The weekly magazine also has a handy guide for the best places to “pope-spot” in Vatican City, including a diagram illustrating where to stand in St. Peter’s square to get the best shot of the popular pontiff on busy Sundays when he addresses the crowd. The journalists on Il Mio Papa included four pages of man-on-the street interviews and snapshots of those in attendance at a sampling of Sunday blessings.
The magazine is heavy on photos, including a spread of semi-embarrassing moments for the pontiff when the wind either covered his head with his cape or whipped his “zucchetto” or white skullcap from his head.
Keeping in line with the rest of the rags on the Mondadori reading list, though, the advertisement sections are less-than-holy, including a photo of a semi-nude woman wrapped in a white towel advertising cream to get rid of stretch marks. The same advert has the nude belly of a pregnant woman and a very high shot of a woman’s nude thighs. The other advertisements are just as oddly placed, including one ad for an energy tab to help fight stress and exhaustion with “instant energy” and a hair treatment that will promises to give women younger looking hair in just three days.
The Vatican itself is keeping hush on the fanzine so far. Traditionally, they have not intervened when popes are the subject of special editions or one-off publications, but a source inside the Vatican told The Daily Beast that they are watching for any missteps. My Pope’s editor Vitali says that they won’t be chasing scandals or trying to find dirt on the pontiff, but that could be because so far there hasn’t been much negativity tied to Pope Francis’s short papacy. “Our editorial direction is of course outside the Vatican’s reach,” he told The Daily Beast. Only time will tell if good news sells enough to keep Il Mio Papa in print.