A record album featuring the face of Pope John Paul II offers the "Polish American Polka Mass Experience" by the Black Madonna Ecumenical Choir and the Joe Augustine Orchestra.A T-shirt emblazoned with the papal visage suggests that you "Take a Peek at the Pope."
Three-dimensional portraits and commemorative mugs, pins, pennants, posters, key-chains and coins are being cranked out by the tens of thousands to satisfy the American urge for souvenirs, be they sublime or ridiculous, to mark Pope John Paul's six-city tour of the United States next month.
"Holy heavens," said a weary Rev. Desmond Murphy, chairman of the "procurement committee" for the pope's visit to Washington Oct. 6 and 7. "Every day I'm getting calls from people with bright ideas -- money-making ideas-- mostly T-shirts."
Murphy said he wants nothing to do with such pseudo-Catholic kitsch, especially for the papal mass to be held for as many as 1 million people on the Mall Oct. 7.
"It is imperative," Murhpy wrote recently to area pastors and Catholic school principals, that "those who attend mass on the Mall and other functions not be victimized by vendors and hawkers whose main objective may be commercial rather than to enhance the solemnity of the proceedings."
Murphy's solution to this problem has been to buy $37,000 worth of souvenirs for the Washington Archdiocese to sell through churches and schools before the pope gets here. Among his inventory are 40,000 papal flags, 1,500 coins and medallions and 10,000 glossy pictures of the pontiff.
"That's my first order and I hope it will be my last one," Murhpy said yesterday.
Murphy hopes that by selling the memorabilia through the churches ahead of time, there should be less interest in buying souvenirs on the day of the mass. That, he hopes, will discourage the hawking of items by vendors during the mass.
The gift shop at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which the pope will visit the morning of the mass, has been stocking up on its own memorabilia. But shrine officials refused to comment on what they have been buying.
Washington's souvenir vendors, by comparison, are showing less than overwhelming enthusiasm for the commercial possibilities afforded by the pontiff's presence. Most major wholesalers in the area said they don't plan to bother with special memorabilia beyond a few postcards, pins and pictures.
"He's coming here on his last stop. We don't want to buy a lot. We might get stuck," said Benjamin Chung, a Souvenir vendor at the foot of the Capitol. "You can't sell these things to other persons when he's gone."
Souvenir seller Harry Franklin, a veteran of 15 years in the business, is somewhat more optimistic. "You know what's going to happen? The vendors are going to wait until two or three days before, then they'll stock up," he suggested.
Franklin has already bought two dozen 8-by-10-inch three-dimensional color photographs of the pontiff which he was displaying yesterday among orange "laugh bags" and red-white-and-blue bumper stickers that say "Washington, D.C."
But church and city officials plan to keep vendors off the Mall on the day of the mass, and some souvenir sellers figure that will further increase the risk of overstocking their papal inventories.
Charlie Brown of D.C. Souvenirs on 8th Street NW, who wholesales to several street vendors, said he is pushing an oversized postcard of the papal crypt in the Vatican, "probably at 25 cents, five for a dollar."
"It's nothing flashy," Brown said. "It's something they [the vendors] can pass over their shoulders working through the crowd. Nothing that draws heat."
Brown also said there are fears that souvenir sellers from other cities who have not sold out when the pope visits them will come to Washington to dump the last of their stocks.
Several national manufacturers of religious memorabilia said yesterday that they are not producing as much as they would like to for John Paul's visit because the official word that he was coming did not arrive until the middle of last month.
"It's this kind of thing that makes the flag business," said C. Randolph Beard, president of the Annin Company in Verona, N.J., which bills itself as "the world's largest manufacturer of flags."
Beard said there has been a run on the "old" pre-Communist Polish flags as well as the papal pennants. But Beard said his company has been able to produce only about 60,000 flags for the occasion, mostly the miniature variety waved by crowds, and most of those have been bought by the Washington Archdiocese.
"New York, so far as I know, won't have hardly a thing to wave," said Beard. "But people have a way of improvising. I'm sure there will be a lot of flags or flag-like items out there."