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There's No Stopping Souvenir Hawkers : Papal visit: Despite Vatican edicts and court orders, street peddlers flourish. They sell everything from foam miters to earrings.

August 13, 1993|LOUIS SAHAGUN and ANN ROVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

DENVER — Neither Vatican edicts, nor federal court orders, nor thundering rain deterred wily entrepreneurs from peddling unauthorized papal paraphernalia to thousands of faithful gathered here Thursday to glimpse Pope John Paul II.

Never mind that attorneys for World Youth Day, a four-day religious convocation of 160,000 young Roman Catholics from 72 nations, won a restraining order blocking sales of unauthorized souvenirs bearing any reference to the event. Or that security guards were under orders to seize "unofficial" items on sight.

Instead, the irrepressible spirit of commercialism flourished on street corners throughout the Mile High City, as free-marketers sought to hitch themselves to the papal cassock, selling items ranging from key chains with the Pope's profile to earrings of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Long before an exuberant crowd flocked to Mile High Stadium for the Pope's welcoming ceremony Thursday evening, Styrofoam hats in the shape of papal miters were selling briskly on downtown streets at $5 a pop.

"Happy wedding present!" squealed World Youth Day participant Lia Macvittie, 20, of Scotland, S.D., as she plopped one of the so-called "miter visors" on a friend's head at the downtown 16th Street Mall. "They're so cool!"

Across the street, beneath a red-and-white circus tent housing the "Officially Licensed World Youth Day Headquarters," salesman Jonathan Flesche fumed: "The Pope hat is a fringe piece to us--a little like blasphemy."

John C. Lemke, president of World Youth Day's official merchandising arm, Famous Artist Merchandising Exchange Inc., offered a stern warning.

"If you're going to steal from this event, that money should burn your hand," Lemke said. "Anyone wishing to get legal should call us. It's never too late to get right with God."

Some of the promotions were shamelessly unrelated to the papal visit. In one such scheme, posters plastered to telephone poles along strategic highways offered a "Papal Special: 30 Pounds, 30 Days, $30."

As thunderheads gathered and the hour approached for the Pope's formal welcome at Mile High Stadium, the towering home of the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies was surrounded by hawkers offering everything from replicas of the Vatican flag to handmade rosaries of baby rosebuds.

Event organizers had feared protests would mar the papal address, but at the main stadium entrance, only a cluster of a half dozen evangelical Christians greeted World Youth Day participants.

Most ignored them, but a few were angered by their chants calling the Pope "the anti-Christ."

"I don't think this behavior is very Christian," fumed Kim Hertzfeld, 36, a nurse who chaperoned 25 young people from her hometown of Toledo, Ohio. "This is our conference! They have no right to infringe on our beliefs!"

But neither anti-Catholic banners nor pelting raindrops and flashes of lightning could dim the enthusiasm of the more than 100,000 faithful who packed the tiers of the stadium.

"We're pro-Pope, we say John Paul Two, we love you!" exclaimed Christine Mugridge, a 32-year-old woman who drove with a Jeep load of friends from Santa Rosa, Calif.

Protected from the elements with a green plastic poncho, Luis Valadez smiled. "The rain," the 36-year-old construction worker from Omaha said in Spanish, "is just a reminder from God about the importance of this moment. It cleans the air, the way God cleans our hearts."

Nearby, 17-year-old Rachel Herriman of San Diego was still quivering from the excitement of shaking the Pope's hand when he arrived earlier at Denver's Stapleton Airport.

"It felt awesome," she said, giving a thumbs-up sign. "I was shaking, not because of the rain, but because I felt warm all over."

As John Paul II's arrival drew nearer, each section of the stadium competed to see which could yell the loudest. And nearly everyone participated in that spectacle of sporting arenas--the wave.

Even the archbishops sequestered behind the podium on the field, joined in, earning a loud roar of approval from the entire stadium.

Many squirmed in their seats as the chance to see the Holy Father drew near.

Sue Kastensen, one of the official hawkers of Pope T-shirts, scurried in from her stand outside for a glimpse of John Paul II arriving in a glass-enclosed vehicle that she dubbed "the Pope Aquarium."

"I'm not a 'Pope-head' myself, but I wouldn't be standing here if I wasn't a little excited," the 30-year-old Denver woman said. "The Pope is a big dude to my relatives."

Besides, she added: "You don't have to believe in it to be moved by it."

Nearby, Ramona Zastrow, a grandmother from New Berlin, Wis., rubbed her arms and said: "I've got goose bumps already and my hair is standing up." Then, as tears brimmed in her eyes, she added: "I hope he can do something for this country--get rid of guns."

Neither she nor many others who scurried for cover at the end of the Pope's address were disappointed. Standing or sitting through more than 40 minutes of driving rain that punctuated his talk seemed a small price to pay for the spectacle overhead.

All Amree Neff and her companions from Ft. Wayne, Ind., could talk about was the rainbow that arched in the sky above John Paul II's head.

"With that rainbow, well, it was wonderful," said the 17-year-old as she ran for the nearest exit.

Special correspondent Kristina Lindgren contributed to this story.

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