The moment Pope Francis I stepped out onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Wednesday, vendors of all things papal went into overdrive to manufacture prayer cards, keychains, mugs, t-shirts and other pope-related souvenirs.
On Wednesday, following a puff of white smoke from the Vatican, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was presented to the world as the new leader of the Catholic church. Less than a hour after the announcement was made, prayer card manufacturers and sellers were gearing up to start pedaling goods emblazoned with images of the new pontiff.
“It's like when someone wins a championship series," Tom Heldridge, owner of Adoremus Books, a Catholic bookstore in Omaha, Neb., told The Huffington Post. "You have to get something printed with the new thing.”
The nation's largest manufacturer of Catholic goods, the Ohio-based Nelson Gifts, said it would print images of the new Pope Francis onto prayer cards starting Wednesday evening. Also known as holy cards, the small, playing-card sized pictures are mass-produced and are generally sold for around $1. They typically depict a holy image on one side of the card and a prayer on the reverse.
"At this moment, we are looking through pictures of what we need to acquire," said Kevin Nelles, director of sales and marketing for Nelson Gifts. "We need about three."
Nelles said the manufacturer had pre-printed cards with prayers in English and Spanish and only needed to drop in the photo. The company would have printers running all night, he said, and would be ready to ship thousands of cards on Thursday morning. In the coming days, Nelson Gifts plans to produce other products including key chains, mugs and t-shirts, including Pope Francis shirts featuring quotes from his first papal address.
One reason for the rush orders: Catholic tradition includes praying for the pope with the use of small devotional items, like the cards, said Nelles. Memorabilia also highlights the importance of visual imagery within the church.
Other religious retailers such as The Catholic Store, an online emporium with annual sales of around $10 million, had been preparing Facebook updates, emails and other marketing materials for several days, all of which they sent within minutes of the announcement.
In an interview with HuffPost shortly before Pope Francis first appeared at the Vatican, Nicholas Cole, vice president of marketing for The Catholic Store, said he anticipated a bigger boost in sales from the incoming pope than from those related to Pope Benedict XVI, who was an established author when he was elected to the papacy in 2005.
"Many of the front-runners are not as well-written, so there are not as many products" already available, Cole said.
The new pope has written some books on spirituality and meditation, according to the Catholic News Service.