For Next Pope, John Paul II's Legacy Looms Large - New York News

For Next Pope, John Paul II's Legacy Looms Large

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By , FOX News Latino

Vatican City -- He is everywhere.

Pope John Paul II died nearly eight years ago, but on most storefronts within a mile of Vatican City, photos, postcards, posters and even bobble-head dolls remind you of the man who held the papacy for more than a quarter-century.

"Everyone loved him," said Lalla Morelli while waiting for the a bus of eager tourists to arrive at the Sevilla Souvenir Shop, just steps from St. Peter's Square -- the site where thousands of pilgrims from all over the world gather to await the famous white smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel, indicating a new pope has been chosen.

Morelli, who has worked 39 years in the same shop, said for every 20 items she sells of Pope John Paul II -- also known as JP2 -- she sells one of Pope Benedict XVI.

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"Ninety percent of the people that come in here ask for John Paul II -- especially Americans, Mexicans and Italians," she said.

For religious souvenir shops, the business model is simple: The more popular a pope, the more replicas souvenirs they sell. Even after his retirement, Pope Benedict XVI memorabilia is neatly placed on a single table while enormous signs point tourists to John Paul II memorabilia at the center of the store.

In fact, Benedict can't even get his own souvenir without the face of Pope John Paul II placed strategically next to his.

And as the world's attention shifts to the papal balcony, where the new pope will be revealed to the world, it becomes increasingly obvious that it doesn't actually matter who's picked -- he will have to deal with having to live with Pope John Paul II's legacy.

Close to eight years after his death, in the eyes of many Catholics, the next pope won't be compared to Benedict but instead to John Paul II, who could anointed a saint by the Church by end of this year.  

"Whoever is going to be the next pope, he has to be charismatic, he has have a great imagination and they have to be similar to John Paul II," said Ricardo Martinez Codello, 27, visiting the Vatican from Mexico.

"We hope the next pope is like John Paul II, who led for 30 years, changed the church and Latin America," chimed in Felix Gonzalez, a tourist from Venezuela.

Pope Benedict XVI never inspired the rock star admiration of his predecessor for several reasons: He was elevated to pope in 2005 when he was older -- 78 -- and the erudite scholar lacked the magnetic charisma of John Paul II.

On Vatican TV, viewers can watch a sermon from a priest in the Vatican with the image of Pope John Paul II, not Pope Benedict XVI, hanging over their shoulder. 

"I think Benedict always saw himself as a transitional pope," said the Rev. Michael Collins, who met with Pope John Paul II about three dozen times. "He knew he couldn't bring the same energy or the same characteristics or qualities to the office."

A pope nicknamed as if he were a superstar athlete, JP2, held the third-longest papacy in history, at 27 years. 

"I'm definitely the JP2 generation," said Sister Maria Kimnganbui, of Arizona.  "I wouldn't be a sister if it wasn't for John Paul II."

On Via della Conciliazione, the street that leads directly to the Vatican, a giant sign over a small church reads: "Blessed John Paul 2, in the land of Carmel."

"Eventually his legacy will fade," Collins said. "The person that comes into office will bring his own characteristics and qualities."

Back at the souvenir shop, Morello recalled looking outside her shop through the columns of St. Peter's square at the little boys and girls who waited in line for a day-and-a-half to say goodbye to JP2.

"John Paul II was like a pastor and Benedictus like a good teacher," said Morelli. "But people now don't need a teacher - they want a pastor."

Follow Bryan Llenas on Twitter @Bryan_Llenas

 

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