Partying with Pope Francis swag

POPEMANIA Is Sweeping The East Coast
POPEMANIA Is Sweeping The East Coast

Tens of thousands of people have strained to catch glimpses of Pope Francis as he's made his way through Washington, D.C., and vendors along every route have been ready with plenty of pope-themed merchandise for the masses.

T-shirts, buttons and stickers emblazoned with the likeness of the wildly popular pontiff are plentiful, but for the truly faithful the offerings are even more diverse. Prayer beads, pens, plush toys, bobble-heads, sunglasses, scented candles, coffee mugs, magnets, key chains and even underwear featuring the 78-year-old Argentine's image are all for sale. Not hungry for fishes or loaves? A pasta place in Philadelphia offers a slab of fresh mozzarella sculpted in the shape of the Holy See. And why drink water or wine when at least four limited-edition beers have been brewed for the Bishop of Rome?

See Pope Francis souvenirs:

D.C. Shirt & Print owner John Esser says he's never seen such demand for memorabilia around any other visit by a head of state.

SEE ALSO: Bobblehead, umbrella, mug or magnet? Pope souvenirs abound

"There has never been this kind of push for apparel when anybody else visits D.C.," Esser says, noting that he sold most of his Francis-themed goods to church groups and nonprofits visiting the nation's capital who requested the name of their organization be printed along with the dates of the trip.

A Philadelphia-themed pope shirt.

In Philadelphia, where Francis will wrap up his three-city U.S. tour this weekend after a stop in New York, entrepreneurs appear especially eager to cash in on the craze for pope-inspired swag.

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Graphic design group Pope is Dope Philly, for instance, created shirts and buttons featuring Francis alongside iconic depictions of the city from movies and TV shows like "Rocky" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

Gabe Weiner, a project manager for the group, says people of all ages have expressed interest in his pope gear. He sees that as a sign the spiritual leader has become "hip" among progressives and millennials for things like his strong stand on climate change and his openness to discussing the roles of gay people and divorcees within the church.

"It's nice to see a pope who has tried to appeal to a younger and broader audience," he says.

Despite working hard to ensure Pope is Dope's depictions "didn't offend anybody," a few eyebrows were raised by a shirt poking fun at a rivalry between two well-known Philadelphia cheesesteak restaurants, Weiner says. The shirt includes a caricature of the pope holding two cheesesteaks over the caption, "Who am I to judge," which the Catholic leader famously said when asked his views about priests who are homosexual.

Speaking of cheese, a pasta company called Pastificio in the City of Brotherly Love this month began advertising a 6-inch, 1 pound sculpture of the pontiff made entirely of mozzarella. At $20, the price may be fairer than the resemblance.

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And those craft beers? Local breweries have created limited edition batches for the pontiff's visit, including Manayunk Brewing Company's "Papal Pleasure," Crime + Punishment's "Jesus Wept," and the Philadelphia Brewing Company's "Holy Wooder."

But lest anyone worry that the opportunistic merchandising is a further sign of the "unfettered capitalism" that was a subject recently of one of Francis' rare fiery tirades, at least some good is coming from the pope-product proceeds.

Pope is Dope says it will donate 20 percent of its sales to the nuns at Mount Saint Joseph's Convent in Philadelphia.

Sister Kathleen Pales, development director of the convent, says she and the sisters are "very grateful" for the donation and that Pope is Dope merchandise is "very clever."

"Pope Francis is all about helping others, about helping the poor," she says. "I would hope people would donate as much to helping the poor and feeding the homeless as they would spend on buying a T-shirt."

Check out Pope Francis in NYC:

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