Pope Francis’s international appeal has been good press for the Catholic church, but it’s also been good business for religious goods retailers around the world.
Sales of papal bits and bobbles like photo prints, prayer cards, keychains and even Pope Francis face masks have soared since the pope’s appointment. On Etsy, an online craft goods website, you can score paddleball boards, pillows and plush dolls, all in Francis’s image. “It’s a new pope, and he’s created a lot of new excitement,” Mark Gould, owner of US online retailer Religious Supply Center, tells Quartz. Gould’s Iowa-based business has already sold over 500 framed pope prints since Francis’s appointment, compared with the 10 or so it sold last year. Prayer cards, which Catholics use to pray for the pope’s health and guidance, have been his second biggest seller since the pope’s appointment. His online store is among the roughly 200 member companies of the country’s National Church Goods Association, which helps meet both institutional and commercial demand for religious goods in the US and abroad. There are also, of course, many other unaffiliated businesses that help supply the over 70 million Catholics living in the US, and the 1.4 billion worldwide, with religious sundries.
To some extent, an uptick in paraphernalia sales comes with any change in pope. Church tradition, for example, requires that every Catholic institution have a picture of the pope in each building, which helps explain the spike in demand for photo prints. But according to those who peddle papal wares, much of the demand is a product of Francis’s popularity among Catholics worldwide. Quantifying the global uptick in business is difficult, since there’s no central body that tracks sales of papal goods, but Gould believes Pope Francis’s appointment and popularity have had a huge impact on religious goods businesses worldwide. “His particular personality adds to the excitement,” Gould said. “I would compare it to the popularity of Pope John Paul II.” Mark Steigerwald, president of the National Church Goods Association, agrees that the “buzz surrounding Pope Francis” has boosted sales.
Here are a few of the ways in which commercial businesses are monetizing Francis’s appeal.