With the historic U.S. visit of Pope Francis now just days away, it's an exciting time for the nation's Catholics.
The pontiff's visit will begin Tuesday in Washington, where he'll do what heads of states do: visit the president and address a joint meeting of Congress. He'll also visit the largest Catholic church in America, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where workers are urgently repairing and painting doors, changing light bulbs and even erecting a new altar.
At the official church gift shop, souvenirs have been flying off the shelves.
It's been an “overwhelming response," said Amy Maloney, head of sales. "So far, we have T-shirts, mugs, rosaries, prayer cards, rosary rings, just about everything you can think of — no bobble heads. We'll probably sell 100,000 prayer cards, 10,000 rosaries, 10,000 T-shirts. We expect that everyone is going to want to take something home with them from this visit from Pope Francis.”
The shop is selling depictions of the popular pontiff in many forms, all with reverence. The official papal T-shirt bears a design that’s received the blessing from on high.
Francis' visit has also captured the imaginations of other, unofficial souvenir vendors, who are offering such items as toys, bobble heads and even a beer named “Pontiff.”
It’s easy to understand the excitement. The last pope to visit the U.S. was Pope Benedict, who came in 2008.
After the service at the basilica, crowds will gather on the lawn of Catholic University to hear a short sermon and receive a blessing. But it’s not a first-come-first-served event. Twenty five thousand people must get the tickets in advance, and they are available only to members of the congregation, present and future priests, and selected special guests.
Believers and nonbelievers alike may get a glimpse of the pope later on, however, right after he meets with President Barack Obama, when he takes part in a papal motorcade down the National Mall. Or they might catch him as he comes out of the portico of the Capitol after addressing a joint meeting of Congress.
After Washington, Francis will travel to New York on Friday, where he will visit the United Nations and address the U.N. General Assembly. The next day, he'll begin a two-day visit to Philadelphia, his final stop in the U.S. There he will visit a correctional facility, where inmates will greet him with a special gift: a hand-carved chair.