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Vendors selling off Pope Benedict XVI souvenirs

03/13/2013 06:15 EDT | Updated 05/13/2013 05:12 EDT
With a new head of the Catholic Church imminent, shopkeepers near St. Peters’s Square are trying to sell their stock of Benedict XVI souvenirs.

“We have so much of (Pope Emeritus Benedict, who was born Joseph) Ratzinger,” says Luigi Englese as he shows off shelves full of photos, books and other items.

“Religious people buy more Benedict because he was a theologian but the people buy more John Paul. He is more speaking to the heart.”

It's serious business for the official shops and street vendors that line the streets around St. Peter's Square.

Souvenirs range from the sacred to the possibly sacrilegious – from rosaries and crucifixes to bottle openers and bobbleheads.

John Paul II hasn’t been pope for eight years, but you can see his image almost everywhere you go, in restaurants, hotels and cafes.

Englese estimates anything with the image of Pope John Paul II outsells Benedict at by a ratio of about 10-to-one.

“He will always be the best pope in many people’s hearts,” agrees Elise Ciolfe, in charge of the mosaic gallery at Domus Artus, a high-end gift shop just outside Vatican City.

“He was a very charismatic person that was talking to all the people and especially the children and sick people and he also fell sick at the end. We were very close to him when he wasn’t well.”

Benedict, on the other hand, was a respected academic – a theologian who didn’t touch people in the same way.

“He’s very untouchable, very far away from the people. John Paul II was close to us, he looked like our grandfather or our father.”

Ciolfe commissioned a mosaic of Benedict XVI shortly after he became pope. It is still in her shop window and she hopes it eventually will sell.

Still, the unexpected resignation of Benedict provided an unexpected opportunity for suppliers and sellers, says Paddy Agnew, the long-time Rome correspondent for The Irish Times.

“Benedict has been a disaster. Ask anyone and they will tell you, his souvenirs do not sell,” he says.

“John Paul II was a tough act to follow. Benedict was an interim figure, transitional, and not as popular. A new pope could revive some of the sales."

Meanwhile, like many other vendors near Vatican City, Elise Ciolfe is hoping a new pope will kick-start the sales of souvenirs.

It would be even better if he is from the United States or a Spanish-speaking country – because those tourists are more likely to spend money.

“Since Ratzinger was Pope, we don’t have a big sale of his items because Germans aren’t interested in his souvenirs,” she explains.

“The mentality of every country gives you a different proportion in sales. If the new pope is from a Spanish-speaking country where people are very religious, it would bring in a lot of money. Americans are our number one customers.”

Once the new pope is elected, tens of thousands of items could be on sale within hours of his name being announced, although it could take about two weeks to get official photos and souvenirs on store shelves.

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