HAVANA — It should be no real surprise that one of the most capitalist nations in the world would capitalize on an Apostolic visit, even when the visitor is a pope who calls money the devil’s dung. And it should be even less of a surprise that a nation like Cuba isn’t cashing in at all.
There is a visible shortage of papal paraphernalia in the Cuban capital beyond the Vatican and Cuban flags that line the boulevards into the city center and a few massive billboards welcoming the pontiff to Cuba. A few stands sell flimsy paper signs on Popsicle sticks with the pope’s likeness in front of a Cuban flag and others sell Pope Francis calendars that start in September rather than January, as if the papal visit marks the beginning of a new year.
But by the time Pope Francis touches down in the United States on Tuesday, there will be any number of trinkets available for those who want to commemorate the papal visit in their own personal style.
Ahead of his trip, no less than a dozen new English language books invoking Pope Francis’s name will have hit American bookstore shelves, including new analytical tomes like Pope Francis: The Struggle For the Soul of Catholicism by Paul Vallely and even illustrated books for children by Catholic artist Bro. Mickey.
There are thorough chronicles of his papacy so far, like Pope Francis: Transforming the Catholic Church by Associated Press Vatican expert Nicole Winfield, which is something like a diary from the papal mile high club, offering reflections from her time traveling on the papal plane.
There are also books for social media buffs like The Tweetable Pope by The Boston Globe’s Catholic commentator Michael O’Loughlin that seek to analyze the pope’s Twitter account messages.
There are books for conspiracy theorists, too, like The Rigging of the Vatican Synod by Edward Pentin, that aim to show the pontiff’s vulnerability at the hands of ill-willed clerics.
Alongside the standard celebrity event souvenirs like T-shirts, baseball caps and coffee mugs, there are, of course, the usual stoic Catholic collectors’ items for sale in all of the venues the pope will visit, from prayer cards to rosaries and knock-off’s of the silver cross Pope Francis wears around his neck with a shepherd and his flock.
But this pope has also inspired a wide array of silly stuff, too, like a G-string for women with a Pope Francis saying: "To live charitably means not looking out for your own interests but carrying the burdens of the weakest and poorest among us." (Not sure who's supposed to read that, or how ....) There are also Pope Francis flip-flops. They're emblazoned with the word "Hope," which is nice, but anyone wearing them will be grinding the ball of his or her foot into the papal face.
There is also a microbrewery beer called YOPO—You Only Pope Once that will be available at the pubs surrounding the Philadelphia venue for the Catholic World Meeting of Families.
The official website for the visit is selling life-size gatorfoam standee posterboards of the pontiff for $160 for anyone who wants to take a papal selfie or have a faux pope hanging around the house. According to the website, “This life-size standee is 69 inches tall (5 feet, 9 inches–the Pope’s actual height!) and is perfect for youth group, vacation bible school, etc.” The official site also sells pope fridge magnets, bumper stickers and “I (heart) Pope Francis” hoodies with the heart replaced with a red mitre. Profits go to the makers of the products.
In Washington, D.C., and New York, pope fans can already buy stuffed dolls and bobbleheads in the pope’s likeness alongside any number of the pope’s books, from his encyclical on the environment to collections of his homilies.
And for those who can’t make it to the venues, consumer website Etsy even has a section dedicated to artisans selling funky Francis goods, including “The Pope is Dope” T-shirts and hand-painted papal postcards that sell for just $12 for a set of five.
Of course for those who get to witness his holiness in person, that experience should be enough. For the rest, luckily, there are plenty of substitutes for the real thing.