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Taking stock of the 'Pope Francis effect' in Los Angeles



A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Crucifixes and many other religious items are sold at the store, which has four locations throughout Central and Southern California.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
A St. Francis candlestick is on display at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Pope Francis chose to name himself after St. Francis, who is known for getting rid of all his possessions and helping the poor.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Customer Jenny Mueller, a shopper for television set decorations for "Scandal," shops for items to be used in a Church set. Mueller, who is religious but not part of a denomination, likes Pope Francis because she believes he's rekindling the spirit of what it is to be religious.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Co-owner Tim Cotter and his brothers run the family-owned business that has been open since 1948. The store also has locations in Long Beach, Fresno and Modesto.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
A St. Francis statue depicts the saint with a wolf. The popularity of St. Francis figurines and other related memorabilia have become increasingly popular because of Pope Francis, who named himself after the saint.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
A customer shops at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. on Wednesday March 12, 2014. About 60 percent of the store's business comes from churches, with 40 percent coming from laity.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Rosaries are on display inside Cotter Church Supplies Inc. on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Ted Cotter first opened the store after moving to LA from Ireland. The first storefront was a room rented out of a house in Long Beach.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Co-owner Mike Cotter helps a customer over the phone with an order. The store is one of the only sources where churches can buy high volumes of wine and hosts (sacramental bread).
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Books related to Pope Francis are for sale inside Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Cotter Church Supplies Inc. employee Tessie Omana looks for a book to fill an order for the VA Hospital on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
A portrait of Pope Francis is for sale at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. in Westlake on Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Many local churches buy the large portraits to display in their lobbies.
Co-owner Pat Cotter moves boxes out onto the floor at Cotter Church Supplies Inc. on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


At the Cotter Church Supplies store near downtown Los Angeles, 26-year-old Danielle Decea tucked a few things into her shopping basket as she browsed the aisles.

“Just prayer books, candles, just little knickknacks here and there," said Decea, a freelance illustrator from Thousand Oaks. "Just to aid the spiritual life. Just like a few tools, you know, to take along the way.”
 
Decea grew up Catholic, but lost interest in the church years ago. Until recently, when she came back – in part, she said, because of Pope Francis.
 
“When I found out about him, I was really encouraged, and that is when the wheels started turning for me," she said. "I love his emphasis on social justice, the central gospel message with the poor, so that influenced me a lot."

RELATED: Take Two: Popularity of Pope Francis revives interest in his saintly namesake

There were other factors that led Decea back to the flock, but she says the new Pope was definitely an influence.
 
In his first year as Pope, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s of Buenos Aires, Argentina has shaken up the church - and the faithful - with his outreach to the poor and his acceptance of communities who haven't typically been embraced by church leadership.

He's reached out to the homeless and to prison inmates. He's celebrated Mass on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where migrants arrive illegally on rickety boats from North Africa. He's voiced compassion for Catholics who have suffered divorces. He remarked, famously, "Who am I to judge?" when asked about his attitude toward gay priests.

The pope's down-to-earth demeanor and tolerant attitude has won him fans among Catholics and non-Catholics alike, part of what media has dubbed the "Pope Francis effect."
 
At Cotter’s, a religious supplies store that's been in business since 1948, the Pope Francis effect has been felt not only in sales of his portraits and books – something that typically happens when there’s a new Pope – but in sales of items related to his equally humble namesake.
 
“This new Pope has revived an interest in St. Francis, because he is living very much by the ideals of St. Francis," said Mike Cotter, whose family owns the business, a chain of four stores catering to churches and the general public. "And people have an interest more in in St. Francis now that the Pope has not only taken that name, but has emphasized his values.”
 
Customers have been buying more St. Francis-related items like statuettes, crosses, even St. Francis medals for their pets, as St. Francis is considered the patron saint of animals.
 
An initial spike in Pope Francis portraits – mostly for churches - has died down by now, but Cotter says books written by or related to Pope Francis remain pretty strong sellers, too.
 
Among the non-Catholics won over by Pope Francis is Jenny Mueller, a 29-year-old set decoration shopper who was at Cotter's this week on business, buying items to film a church scene for a TV show.  
 
Mueller grew up with a Catholic father and a Presbyterian mother. She doesn't consider herself a Catholic. Still, she admits she's a fan of the new Pope – she calls him the “popiest” of recent pontiffs.
 
“I just think that this Pope speaks to what God is all about, just coming out and being with the people and living with the people, and just accepting everyone as they are," Mueller explains. "It's really, really enlightening, and really hopeful."

It's too soon to know how deep the Pope Francis effect will go in terms of whether Francis will change church policies, or draw more onetime Catholics like Decea back to the flock.

But in Los Angeles, labor activists impressed with his attention to income inequality are circulating a petition to draw him to Los Angeles next year when he visits the United States, hoping he'll have an effect on the local dialogue on poverty.

In a statement, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor leader Maria Elena Durazo described Los Angeles as "one of the nation's epicenters of working families living in poverty" meriting Pope Francis' attention. 

"There is no one on the world stage that would be more fitting than Pope Francis to shine a light on the poverty that is plaguing our communities," she said.