Pope Francis' visit provokes a very old memory.

... recollections of a shopping trip at a religious goods store located directly across from the Walls of the Vatican

by Joe Sullivan

For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the place. Even the family
factotum, my wife, draws a blank when I ask her. “Something elli”, I offer, like Spinelli, or Zorelli, or something like that.” Her response is a
blank stare in its most absolute form. I’m not even close. I know the
unremembered name has a neat little bounce to it; pleasant to say, pleasant to hear, like Bubalaqua, or Santasuasso, or Amocangoli, or Capobianco; the
names of long-ago schoolmates...But they don‘t help, too bad, I can’t
remember the name. I ‘ll have to attempt a bad compromise, so I call it Something-elli’s.

Anyway, what’s important is not its name but where it is. Something-elli’s is
located directly across the street from the walls of the Vatican, a very nice place to be for a store that sells religious articles. Rosary beads, medals, scapulars, crucifixes, holy-water containers, books, prayer cards and a bunch of other things that not even the most holy, saint-like person could have imagined to exist; will be found at Something-elli’s.

My recollection is that Something-elli’s is  not only across the street from
one of the Vatican walls but it’s across from an opening in that wall, the opening through which people exit after concluding their tour of the
Vatican. At the very peak of their tour-induced spiritual high they emerge to
see Something-elli’s directly in their view. As the Borgias always said, “Location, location, location.”

For as important as it is, location is not Something-elli’s most valuable
attribute. That’s because when you buy a religious article at Something-elli’s it will be blessed by the Pope himself. Boy, talk about Green Stamps.

With its shop-like atmosphere, Something-elli’s  provides a feeling of
comfort and trust. You notice the clerks sport beatific smiles; when your gaze meets theirs, they acknowledge you with a slow, gentle nod.  On the other hand, their eyes follow you like those of a resting cat, quietly, carefully watching. God’s jewelry is expensive.

Something specific in mind.

I am not just wandering around the store, there is something specific I have
in mind. During the tour of the Vatican, our guide mentions that, even though it’s only 1997, a Millennium Medal has been struck in anticipation
of the year 2000. It is unique in that it does not display the name of a Pope, something that has never happened before. One of us asks why, and the guide responds with a noncommittal shrug followed by a sly smile. Someone else in our group suggests the very practical, non-official answer, “He could
die before 2000. There’ll  be a new Pope then”.

After nosing around Something-elli’s world of spiritual wonder, I discover
the Millennium Medals all by myself. As with all things, there are Millennium Medals and there are Millennium Medals. The distinction in this case
coming from the natural differences in the value of gold, silver, and pewter, none of which I intend to buy. As my kids would say, I’m looking for a short-money deal, namely, the least expensive. With this in mind I point
out a metallic-looking version in the display case. The clerk brings it out and plunks it directly onto the glass counter. The red-velvet type cloth nearby which is used  to show the top-of-the line models, apparently,
is not needed. With a hint of condescension he says, “Some would refer to
this as more of a souvenir, Signor.”

Doing the deal.

The medal is a bit larger than a fifty-cent piece, and costs eleven bucks and change, which is fine with me, especially after seeing the prices on the more expensive ones. My intention is to give one to each of the two
co-pastors of our Parish. I’ll glamorize the no-pope, collector-item feature, following up with the blessed-by-the-Holy Father-himself feature. They could use me at Something-elli’s.

“I’ll take a couple” I say to my clerk. He inserts each one into its own small manila envelope, folds over the flap and sticks them  into a small white bag.. “Thirty-eight thousand Lira, please, Signor”. I give him my plastic and we go through the drill.

Holding the bag up off the counter, he then says, “It will be necessary to pick up the medals at a later time today if they are to be blessed by the Holy Father.” (Now, you tell me.) I maintain my poise and say, “How
much later?” “After fifteen hundred hours, sir.” “That’s after three, right?
“Yes Signor, after three. All items purchased this morning will be carried to
the Vatican and placed on a table that Holiness will pass by on his return from his luncheon meal. At that time he will provide the blessing. All
things will be returned here.” I give him an acknowledging nod, a salute-type
wave with my receipt and say, “Okay, see you then, grazie.”

My guaranteed purchase.
I buy nothing for myself at Something-elli’s. No irreverance intended, it’s
just that I have an absent minded habit. I put things down, walk away, and never remember where I left them. Eventually I make an  exception. We visit other places and when we are in Padua I buy a medal bearing the likeness of St. Anthony of  Padua, my patron saint. How can anyone walk away from an opportunity like that? Besides, I’ll never forget where I’ve  left St. Anthony. His medal is attached to the key ring that holds the keys to my car.

October 2, 2015

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