Check Out All the Crazy Ways People Are Cashing in on the Pope's Visit to America
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Pope Francis has loudly denounced the "idolatry of money" and the "tyranny" of capitalism. Apparently, the criticism doesn't extend to the practice of selling hundreds of pricey collectibles—coffee mugs, pope dolls, rosaries, hoodies, baseball hats, $500 silver crosses, backpacks, pennants, drink coozies, and more—to commemorate Pope Francis's September visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families.
An official pop-up shop opened in center city Philadelphia last week. The shop and the official World Families website are being operated by Aramark, the corporation probably best known for running concessions at many national parks—and for controversies over the prison kitchens it oversees around the country.
Aramark is hardly the only business bound to cash in during the pope's visit to America. Philadelphia landlords, restaurants, bars, and other small businesses stand to benefit big time. Entrepreneurial types selling unauthorized pope-themed food and merchandise including hot dogs, beer, dog tags, T-shirts, mozzarella cheese, and even toasters that produce crispy Francis images on bread have popped up everywhere. Scalpers have inevitably begun selling tickets for pope-related events that were given out for free.
If you're thinking that all of this profiteering is "in poor taste," you're not alone. That was exactly the reaction of a New Jersey pizzeria owner named Anthony Marino, who appears to be one of the few not jumping on the pope gravy train. When the company that supplies the pizza boxes to his restaurant, Marino's of Mullica Hill, showed up with a shipment of boxes featuring Pope Francis and the Philadelphia skyline, Marino refused to use them. "It just didn't seem right to me," Marino, a Roman Catholic, explained to NJ.com.
In light of the 200+ items for sale on the Aramark-run World Meeting of Families website, though, it appears as if Pope Francis and the church have made their peace with some degree of commercialism and merchandising. Here's a partial list of some of the things you can buy to celebrate the pope's visit to America.
"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." These wise words did not come from Pope Francis, nor from the man they are most often attributed to, Philadelphia icon Benjamin Franklin. But the oft-repeated phrase has nonetheless been taken to heart by no fewer than four Philly-area craft beer makers, which have produced special pope-inspired brews timed to coincide with Pope Francis's visit. The Philadelphia Brewing Company, for instance, has released Holy Wooder, a limited-edition Belgian ale (the kind that some monks make) with a name that plays off the Philadelphia-South Jersey pronunciation of "water."
You might assume that a lot of the silly, irreverent pope merchandise wouldn't be officially sanctioned by the church. And yes, much of the pope swag that tourists will see on the streets of Philadelphia will indeed be unauthorized goods. Still, a huge number of gifts and collectibles are being sold by the Aramark Corporation, the Philadelphia-based official retail provider of the Pope's World Meeting of Families in the city, and quite a few of these items are more kitschy than you might imagine. For instance, the Pope Francis bobblehead, selling for $25.
Who has time to wait around for a "miracle" to appear, in the form of Jesus's face on a potato chip or a portrait of the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese? The Pope Toaster, retailing for $48.95 plus $7 for shipping, comes with special inserts that allow users to brown the images of Pope Francis on one side of bread, and the message "Spread the Love" on the other.
Pope Plush Doll
Aramark is selling more than 200 products related to the Pope's visit to Philadelphia. There are rosaries and crosses for the devout, as well as keychains, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and even coozies for keeping your beverage of choice chilled. While prayer cards and a $5 pin showing the Holy Family are popular, Aramark told the Wall Street Journal that the Pope Francis bobblehead and the 10" plush doll (seen here, $20) are the top sellers.
Philadelphia-area restaurants and bars have rolled out Pope Francis food and drink specials like they were biblical loaves of bread and fish. The options include a Basilica Burger, "holy" hot dogs (the Pope Dog and the FrancisFurter from Underdogs), Argentine empanadas (Francis is from there), and drinks like the "popetini." Most adorable of all, the Whipped Bake Shop is selling Pope Francis Cakes seen here. It's only six inches in diameter, but the price is anything but small ($130, order seven days in advance).
At least two vendors are selling small standing popes that you can prop up as adornments on bookshelves or kitchen counters. Larger, life-size popes are for sale too—they're perfect greeters for the hallway by the front door, or perhaps it would be fun to see what happens in the morning after you stage one next to the bed of a sleeping child. The official Aramark Pope Francis 10-inch standee retails for $20, as does another seller's 18-inch pope. The latter features Francis giving a Fonzi-like "thumbs up," with a big smile that all but says, "Ayyyyyy!" Lifesize pope standees, which also have the "thumbs up" image and are great for selfies (no trip to Philadelphia required), are priced at $160.
It's been estimated that as many as 1.5 million people will attend the outdoor mass with Pope Francis in Philadelphia on September 27, and upwards of 2 million people will be drawn to the city overall for the pope's visit. Many of these folks will need a place to stay for a night or two. Early on, there was concern that the metropolitan area didn't have enough hotel rooms for the crowds, and that some properties would gouge tourists with exorbitant rates. Recently, however, hotels that hadn't yet sold out have been slashing prices and dropping minimum-stay requirements to fill up rooms. Some hotels are offering special pope packages too. A promotion good during the pope's visit from the Courtyard Philadelphia Airport includes accommodations and transportation around the city (via train passes) for $289 to $499 per night.
In conjunction with the Penn Libraries, the Penn Museum is hosting a special exhibit timed to coincide with Pope Francis's visit to Philadelphia. It's called "Sacred Writings: Extraordinary Texts of the Biblical World," and includes rare artifacts, manuscripts, and books on display now through November 8. The standard adult donation admission to the museum is $15 for adults.
Trains & Buses
Driving and parking in center city Philadelphia will be off limits for most cars during the pope's visit. Understandably, Amtrak tickets to the city during the pope's visit have reportedly been selling fast. Tickets on SEPTA, the local train system, are in high demand as well. Special bus services have been added too, like the series of "PopeBuses" booked to pick up passengers in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania park-and-ride locations and bring them to the nearest SEPTA station.
Pope Milk Shake
The "Pope Shake" is not a dance (at least not yet). Instead, it's a special limited-edition milk shake made with vanilla ice cream and shortbread butter cookies being sold at Potbelly Sandwich Shop locations in the Philadelphia area through the end of September. The official name of the shake is the #PopeInPhilly (yes, there are hashtags in food names now), and for every $3 shake sold, 50¢ is being donated to the efforts to host the pope's visit to the city.
Coffee Mugs, Wine Glasses & More
Plastic squeeze bottles, pint glasses, ceramic latte mugs, travel coffee mugs, gilded collectible ivory bone china mugs—no matter what your preference is in terms of beverage vessel, the official World Meeting of Families retail site probably has you covered. A set of two wine glasses, for instance, is priced at $30. Like most of the beverage containers for sale, they feature the Philadelphia World Meeting logo that prominently includes an image that bears a strong resemblance to Darth Vader's helmet but is in fact the Liberty Bell.
Over the summer, Curbed rounded up example after example of Philadelphia-area residents attempting to gouge visitors with absurdly high Airbnb rentals during the pope's visit. One bold entrepreneur was asking $5,000 for the right to sleep on his pull-out couch for the weekend. Others listed homes at nightly rates of $5,000 and up, sometimes for locations that aren't even within walking distance of the action. More reasonable Airbnb listings in center city Philadelphia, like the one seen here, are harder to find and understandably tend to book up quickly.
The range of alternately bizarre, amusing, and potentially offensive pope paraphernalia is probably best on display on T-shirts, which run the gamut from "Yo Adrian" pope shirts riffing on "Rocky" to those spreading the word that "The Pope Is Dope." Naturally, Pope Francis baby onesies and hoodies are available for sale as well.