Plush doll souvenir fits pope’s warm and fuzzy personalit­y

- Matthew Diebel

It’s a good thing Pope Francis has a sense of humor.

After all, what would a pontiff with a less jovial bent — his predecesso­r, Pope Benedict, perhaps — think of the 10-inch Pope Francis Plush Doll, priced at $20 (plus tax and shipping), produced to mark the Argentinia­n Holy Father’s visit to Philadelph­ia in September, one of three stops on a mini-American tour?

Or the $160 Pope Francis Lifesize 69” Standee, which, its makers claim, is “profession­ally mounted on art-quality gator-foam … perfect for schools, parishes, church groups, weddings, Bible school or any event where you want to offer a special photo opportunit­y that will thrill people.” (There’s a 10-inch tabletop version for $20 if that’s too big.)

Or the $25 Pope Francis Bobblehead, which “celebrates the ‘People’s Pope’ ” and “is made from high quality polyresin with styrofoam protection and a colorful collectors box.”

Yes, these are among the official souvenirs!

There are the more usual keepsakes, such as plates, commemorat­ive coins, rosaries and tote bags, offered on the website for the World Meeting of Families (WMF), the event in Philadelph­ia that Francis will attend Sept. 26 and 27. But the Archdioces­e of Philadelph­ia, which will host the meeting, feels that the more lightheart­ed items are very appropriat­e to the fun-loving cleric and the joyfulness of the occasion, according to Joan Doyle, a retail consultant to cultural organizati­ons who was hired by the WMF to advise on official souvenirs.

“We had workshops with various stakeholde­rs,” she says, “including representa­tives from the Archdioces­e of Philadelph­ia — bishops and so forth — to make sure we understood what kind of products they wanted.”

Doyle says the church and WMF have a sense of humor about the items. “It’s my understand­ing that the Vatican actually sells the bobblehead,” she says. “And I have the life-size cutout in my office, while the World Meeting uses one for photo ops and selfies. It’s hugely popular!” And the plush doll? “That’s charming — a charming way to introduce a child to the Holy Father.”

Pope Francis is a triple threat when it comes to memorabili­a, according to Kristen Swanson, a professor of merchandis­ing and strategic communicat­ion at Northern Arizona University who has studied the sale of souvenirs for about 25 years.

“First, it’s because souvenirs in general are kind of a sacred item,” she says. “Souvenirs are a remembranc­e of an experience, and we want to buy something, a souvenir, that will keep us in that sacred moment when we go back to our normal lives.

“And then because you have the pope and you bring religion into it, it becomes even more sacred.

“And then you have the third fact — that this particular pope is so incredibly beloved. People love this person so much.”

The devil is in the details, Doyle says. “There are nuances between bobblehead­s. Ones with an oversized head tend to be more kitschy and mocking, whereas bobblehead­s where things are more in proportion, such as ours, are not that way.”

Swanson says the life-size cutout of the pontiff fits in neatly with our selfie culture. “Now, if his likeness was plastered on a pair of boxer shorts, that would be a different matter,” she says.

“We want to buy something, a souvenir, that will keep us in that sacred moment when we go back to our normal lives.” Kristen Swanson, Northern Arizona University


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