Pope Francis is the leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, but he’s also big business.
Since his installation March 13, there’s been quite a flurry of purchases for a likeness of the 266th pontiff. Mark Gould, owner of the Religious Supply Center in the Village of East Davenport, said the most recent Google statistics show approximately 450,000 global searches per month for Pope Francis.
“He’s re-energized the church, in part because he’s new and everyone wants a likeness of him,” Gould said.
Church tradition dictates that every Catholic institution have a picture of the Pope in each building, similar to a photo of the U.S. president hanging in every federal building.
Gould said the race was on with the Pope’s election but it takes time to come out with an official picture. At first, Gould’s store was getting a variety of pictures that weren’t official. Manufacturers knew the demand would be high and were offering anything within days of the Pope’s installation. Gould has learned it takes about three weeks to get the official photo.
“His picture is our number 1 item, by far, in the store and especially on the Internet,” Gould said.
His store has about 10 different prints in different sizes, with prices starting at $15 on up.
Then there are people who want images Francis, whether it be a rosary with his likeness on the centerpiece and the Vatican sign on the back or rosary cases.
“Prayer cards are number 2 with folks wanting to say a prayer for the new Pope that he inspires and leads the Catholic church in the right direction,” Gould said.
A spokesman for the Davenport Diocese said it gets its official Pope picture through the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.
Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island purchased its picture from Gould for its lobby. But, assistant principal Sandy Carlsten said, since Pope Benedict is still alive, they’ve kept his picture up as well, in another spot.
Gould’s cousin, David, runs Lagron Miller, a religious supply store in Peoria. He reported an equal demand for printed images, “maybe even a bit more than the previous Pope.”
He said requests tapered off over the summer, but with schools back in session his business has seen a little bump. In Peoria, the Pope’s color picture can be purchased for as little as $8.
Mark Gould added that people are fascinated with the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio because of his South American background and want to learn more about him.
Gould referred to a National Catholic Reporter article about the Pope’s piety. Instead of living in lavish quarters, he lives at the University on the Vatican grounds with professors and students studying to become priests, having breakfast with them.
“It’s tough to be non-pretentious when you’re in such a high position but he seems to be getting that point across,” Gould said.