Souvenir boom as Poles set to fete their nation’s new saint John Paul II

April 25, 2014

(Sculptor Czeslaw Dzwigaj works on bas-relief of the late Pope John Paul II in his atelier near Krakow April 9, 2014. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)

Souvenir shops at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Krakow, where Karol Wojtyla was archbishop before becoming Pope John Paul II, do a brisk trade in papal memorabilia now that he is due to be declared a saint.

In one store in the southern Polish city, a saleswoman says she has sold several thousand candles with an image of the late pope on them, at prices from 12 zlotys ($3.95) on up.

Other strong sellers are pictures of the pope fastened to a piece of wood and jigsaw puzzles with his image that come in 260, 500, or 1,000 piece versions.

The boom in pope-related merchandise is just one measure of the abiding appeal of Pope John Paul, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2007 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pontiff in history.

If for the rest of the world’s Roman Catholics he is a model of religious devotion, for Poles he also doubles as a political icon credited with helping to bring down the Iron Curtain and free Poland from Communist rule imposed from Moscow.

“The pope … was a spiritual leader, but also a political leader. There’s no doubt that we ejected the Communists from power thanks to the fact that he mobilized us,” said Leokadia Tylek, visiting the late pope’s home town of Wadowice.

That role has become relevant again for many Poles since Russia’s military intervention in neighboring Ukraine. An opinion poll this month showed Poles more worried about their national independence than at any time since the Cold War.

“Now may he protect us from the misfortune looming from the east,” Tylek said in Wadowice, about 50 km southwest of Krakow.

Read the full story by Wojciech Zurawski here.

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