On Italian Newsstands, Pope Francis Gets His Own Fanzine

Imagine: a papal People magazine. It's not far-fetched. A new magazine, My Pope, is covering the weekly activities of Pope Francis — and it's put out by a publisher known for celebrity gossip rags.

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This week, Pope Francis marks the first anniversary of his papacy. In his first 12 months, Francis has achieved the rank of a global pop star. His message of humility and proximity to the poor has won admiration from Catholics and non-Catholics alike. He's attracting bigger crowds than his predecessor and, as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, he is now the focus of a new fan magazine.

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SYLVIA POGGIOLI BYLINE: It's 11:30 a.m. on Sunday and St. Peter's Square is beginning to fill with tourists, pilgrims and the simply curious. One of the busiest spots is the newspaper kiosk across the square from St. Peter's Basilica. Pope Francis's image adorns nearly everything inside the kiosk: postcards, posters, and bobble-heads, not to mention books, DVDs and special-edition volumes commemorating year one of the Francis papacy.

This week, there's a new addition, a weekly magazine called Mio Papa, My Pope. Newsstand owner Alessandro Tramalzini says the first issue, 69 pages long, sells for just 70 cents.

ALESSANDRO TRAMALZINI: (Through Translator) It's the first issue, so who knows how it will do in the long run? But this week it sold well because it's very cheap.

BYLINE: My Pope is the brainchild of the Mondadori Publishing House, known for its celebrity gossip rags and owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, convicted last year for tax fraud. The new fanzine could be dubbed a papal People magazine. Filled with photographs, My Pope is devoted entirely to the weekly activities, down-to-Earth homilies and gestures of the 265th successor to Peter.

Each week, it includes a free pull-out centerfold of the smiling pope and his more memorable quotes of the week. The magazine carries ads for laxatives, hair-care products and chairlifts. Editor Aldo Vitali, who's also editor of Italy's number one weekly magazine - a cross between TV Guide and People - said in his editorial, the purpose is not so much to celebrate the pope but to help him make the world a better place.

The magazine came out on Ash Wednesday, the same day Pope Francis said in an interview he does not want to be considered a Superman or a star, which he said, he finds offensive. Nevertheless, over the last year Francis has become one of the world's most popular newsmakers.

Tramalzini says his newsstand in St. Peter's Square is the best location from where to assess Francis' soaring popularity.

TRAMALZINI: (Through Translator) There's a huge interest in Francis. Visitors have increased a lot since Benedict was pope. The Francis effect can be felt both in the numbers who come here and in the money they spend.

BYLINE: As the time nears noon, the square is packed and, like sun worshipers, tens of thousands of people aim their cameras, smartphones and tablets all in the same direction, toward the second-from-last window of the top floor of the building to right of the basilica.

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BYLINE: A figure in white appears, the crowd cheers and Pope Francis wishes good morning to his dear brothers and sisters.

POPE FRANCIS I: (Foreign language spoken)

BYLINE: And he finishes off his message, wishing everyone a good Sunday and a good Sunday dinner.

I: (Foreign language spoken)

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BYLINE: As people leave the square, I ask a policeman to estimate the crowd numbers. Easily 50,000, he says five times more than the average turnout for Francis' predecessor.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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