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June 8, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 16

COMMENTARY

Cashing in on Papal Visit

It was bound to happen. With Pope Francis coming to Philadelphia in late September for the World Meeting of Families, a commercial enterprise known as Aramark is busy manufacturing all kinds of merchandise which they hope pilgrims will buy as a keepsake or memento of their chance to see Pope Francis in the flesh.

The knick knacks will not be cheap. A Pope Francis doll will sell for $20.

Some of these items, which will range in price from $5 to $500, were on display June 1 at Philadelphia City Hall at a news conference. Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, beaming with a broad smile, proudly displayed the Pope Francis doll at the event. Mayor Nutter can be seen wearing a new jacket which had a small image of the Liberty Bell topped by a cross. The words “2015 Philadelphia” and “World Meeting of Families” were printed on the upper left side.

Other items to be marketed by Aramark include wine glasses, t-shirts saying “I (love) Pope Francis,” with a miter in place of a heart.

But one doesn’t have to wait another three and a half months or even go to Philadelphia during the pope’s visit to purchase one of these mementos. Already customers for Pope Francis memorabilia can order what they want online.

“Our internet has been processing orders that are pope-memorabilia affiliated, not just from Philadelphia but nationwide and worldwide,” Gregory DiCocco, one of the owners of the DiCocco Family St. Jude Shop in Havertown, Pa., told the Philadelphia Daily News. “People are buying them in anticipation so they don’t have to worry about obtaining them there.”

While the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia (and also New York and Washington) is meant to be faith-based and spiritual, it seems that merchandisers are waiting to cash in. Officials of the City of Philadelphia are marketing the papal visit, knowing full well that many pilgrims will be staying overnight at local hotels and eat at nearby restaurants. Both hotel room sales and restaurants have a hefty sales tax which will boost revenue to City Hall.

Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the World Meeting of Families who attended the June 1 news conference, defended the commercial sales.

“This will help defray costs, but it’s not why we’re doing it,” she said. “When you go to a papal event, at the end, the pope offers a blessing and the tradition is to take items you want to be blessed.”

Ms. Farrell remained mum when asked what fraction of the proceeds Aramark will receive.

Yes, crowds will pour into Philadelphia for the Papal Mass. While one hopes they are motivated to attend for spiritual reasons and to carry memories of how their Catholic Christian faith was uplifted, they will be surrounded by vendors who have maximum financial profit on their minds.

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