VATICAN CITY—Praising the district’s vast selection of inexpensive goods and its vendors’ willingness to negotiate prices, Pope Francis reportedly spent Thursday afternoon strolling through Vatican City’s Chinatown before purchasing a knockoff golden chalice.
Holy See officials said that after leading Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, the Bishop of Rome walked the three blocks to the sprawling ethnic Chinese neighborhood known for selling anything from Pentecost fireworks to bootleg homily DVDs, as well as countless other deeply discounted ecclesiastical items.
“I love coming down here every now and then to explore and maybe pick up a few things if I happen upon a good price,” said the pontiff, pausing briefly beside a booth where colorful plastic rosaries hung from a rack and thuribles stamped with the words “Catholic Church” were piled in a bin. “They don’t always have the highest-quality stuff, but if you hunt around you can get a great deal on something at least halfway decent. If I really dig, I know I can find a chalice that’ll transubstantiate wine into the blood of Christ pretty much as well as the real thing.”
“And even if the stem snaps or the jewels come unglued, I’m only out a few bucks,” he added. “I can just get another.”
“I love coming down here every now and then to explore and maybe pick up a few things if I happen upon a good price.”
In addition to retail, the Vatican Chinatown is reportedly home to dozens of storefronts touting alternative sacramental services such as herbal baptisms or reflexology treatments for the sick and dying, often demonstrated on small televisions playing looped video of priests performing the rites. Behind the shops that line Via Pio X and Via di Porta Angelica, penitents can also descend into one of the area’s basement confessional parlors and be absolved of their sins at a cost of three for $5 or seven for 10.
However, due to the quasi-legal nature of some merchants’ business practices, the area is regularly patrolled by members of the Swiss Guard on the lookout for scams. Pope Francis himself has reportedly witnessed sellers hawking what they claimed were the bones of saints or patches of the Shroud of Turin, but who then quickly rolled up their blankets and scattered as soon as they caught sight of the guards.
“You do have to be careful—one time I bought a Latin Vulgate Bible, but when I got home I realized it just cut off right in the middle of Leviticus,” said the pontiff, glancing at himself in a mirror, wearing the visored miter he was considering purchasing. “When I tried to take it back, the lady screamed at me, ‘All sales final!’ What am I going to do, get into a whole thing with her?”
Added the Vicar of Christ, “Oh well, lesson learned.”
As he walked under an ornate Paifang into another winding alleyway of awnings, Pope Francis reportedly stopped at the open-air shop where he buys whole fish in bulk during Lent. Afterward, witnesses said the pontiff bought a mango bubble tea and partook in some window-shopping at various stores selling Ray-Ban sunglasses, swords supposedly used by Templar Knights during the 12th-century crusades, and unlocked smartphones.
“Cardinal Giuseppe told me about this great karaoke place down on Sant’Anna near the Vatican Library that has a huge selection of all the best hymns,” Pope Francis said as he passed by a dim sum stall posting a small menu in both Chinese and rudimentary liturgical Latin. “I think it’s the perfect spot for our midnight Mass afterparty when all the visiting bishops are in town this December. Boy, I’m really going to have to practice my ‘Ave Maria’ before then.”
“It’s so nice to have some things around here that are open on Christmas,” he added.
At press time, several vendors were aggressively waving the pope into their shops with the promise of name-brand ecclesiastical vestments at 75 percent off retail price.