When Pope Benedict XVI comes to town April 15, very few people will get the chance to be up close and personal with him.
But that has not stopped hundreds of snapshots from circulating around Washington that show people posing happily alongside the pope before he even sets foot in this country.
At closer look, the pope, in red and white vestments, appears, well, flat.
That’s because a life-size cutout of Pope Benedict is on display in Washington outside the gift shop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Adjacent to the cash register, the cardboard pontiff lures those passing by, who happen to have a cell-phone camera, to snap away.
The shrine is not charging for photos, as some places do with life-size cutouts of famous people. It also is not selling that particular cut out, although plenty of folks have inquired about buying it. There are plenty of smaller, desk-size versions available.
And just because the life-size image isn’t for sale, it hardly means papal images are too sacred to market. The separate kiosk outside the shrine gift shop is currently selling all kinds of Pope Benedict merchandise including: coffee mugs, rosaries, magnets, bumper stickers, T-shirts, postcards and books.
Those who can’t make it to the shrine bookstore can purchase souvenirs of Pope Benedict’s U.S. visit online. And while browsing, Web users might want to visit another site that sells religious items for an unusual, although not official, papal souvenir.
Tucked in between a book on religious sisters in the United States and a book of contemplative prayer by Trappist Father Thomas Merton, is a two-ounce bottle of “The Pope’s Cologne.”
The site, which sells products from monasteries around the world, offers a lot of fruitcakes, cookies, jams and religious books, but only one papal scent which is advertised as the “private formula of Pope Pius IX.”
PHOTO: Father Ray Wadas poses with a life-size cutout image of Pope Benedict XVI outside the gift shop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington April 6. The pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park, Md., said he wanted to have his photo taken with the cutout because it was “as close as I’m going to get” to the pope. Pope Benedict arrives in Washington April 15 for his pastoral visit to the United States. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)