- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Roman Catholic churches nationwide have been rushing to find bunting, candles and other products to help the faithful mourn the death of Pope John Paul II — and to recognize a new pontiff once he is chosen.

That has meant a busy week for companies and stores that sell religious items.

“Until Friday, it was just a steady stream of people inquiring [about] what products would be available when the pope passes, and people were quite afraid to really come out and say it,” said Grant T. Orr, whose Gaithersburg company is one of the largest wholesale liturgical product sellers on the East Coast. The company also has a retail store in Baltimore.

Before it happened, Mr. Orr didn’t want to advertise or even bring up the subject of the pope’s death because doing so seemed crass to him.

“I didn’t want to do anything really — other than the peripheral planning — until he passed,” he said.

So when the pope died Saturday, business soared and made things hectic.

Condolence books and cards with the pope’s picture have been popular, as have memorial candles with the papal coat of arms.

Mr. Orr has spent most of the week calling manufacturers, asking them to ship goods quickly. Some churches saw a month’s supply of candles dwindle rapidly over the weekend.

“If we don’t have it, we’re calling the manufacturers to see if they have it and if they’re willing to ship it,” he said.

Martin Marklin, whose Contoocook, N.H., company produces candles for special occasions for the church, also said the pope’s deteriorating health presented a marketing problem.

“It’s a very fine line,” Mr. Marklin said. “It’s like selling funeral plots. You can’t knock people over the head.”

He waited until the end before advertising through the Web site for his company, Marklin Candle Design.“Within minutes of his passing, our Web site was up,” he said. “Churches were calling us even on Saturday, on the weekend.”

At Robert F. Gaiser & Co. in Butler, N.J., which has made liturgical clothing for 60 years, Lisa and Steve Gaiser figure they will sell about 8,000 yards of bunting — almost five miles of cloth — during the papal transition period. Some will be black, to mourn John Paul II, and some will be gold or white, to celebrate his successor.

“We’ve sort of turned our whole factory upside down to try to accommodate everybody,” Steve Gaiser said.

Another challenge for church goods manufacturers and suppliers was preparing for an event that hadn’t happened in more than 25 years.

“I don’t know what the standard operating procedure is,” Mr. Orr said. “We’re just kind of winging it.”

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