STEUBENVILLE - Mark Nelson is praying and preparing for a new pope for the 1.2 billion member Catholic Church.
"On the personal side I feel the need for prayer for the cardinals as they go into their conclave. Their election of a new pope will have a massive impact on the Catholic Church in our modern world. And, the new pope will have an influence on the implementation of evangelical Catholicism. Choosing a new pope will be key for the Catholic Church," stated the owner of Nelson Fine Art and Gifts located on Lincoln Avenue.
"The next pope will be relatively unknown. But, we hope to educate people about the new pope through our products including posters, cards and framed paintings. At this point, we are praying for wisdom for the cardinals as they choose the next pope," noted Nelson.
POPE BENEDICT XVI KEEPSAKES — Sarah Simmermeyer and Mark Nelson of Nelson Fine Art and Gifts look at several Pope Benedict XVI items for sale at the Lincoln Avenue store. Nelson said he and his staff are preparing for the election of the new pope. - Dave Gossett
Nelson, along with the rest of the world, will have to wait until the man is selected to succeed Benedict as the next leader of the Catholic Church.
"I was driving to a meeting in Columbus the morning of Feb. 11 when Benedict announced his resignation. I was probably halfway to Columbus when my wife called me with the news, and I was debating whether I should continue my trip or turn around. We had to scramble to put together a Pope Benedict prayer card. We wanted to create a holy card as a commemorative product," related Nelson.
"We have the store here in Steubenville, but our main business is supplying a couple thousand businesses across the United States, including stores, basillicas and churches. So we came up with a prayer card that listed Benedict's dates and includes a prayer on the back of the card. We also have matted products, coffee mugs and other keepsakes bearing Benedict's photo. For Catholics, he was our Holy Father," said Nelson.
"From a business point of view we have multiple plans in place for when the new pope is named. This is kind of like the Super Bowl for our business. We are not sure who will be chosen, but we have ordered the raw materials and have the presses reserved and on stand by. And, we are taking pre-sale orders through our Website www.nelsongifts.com," according to Nelson.
Nelson Fine Art and Gifts, a 20-year veteran of the Catholic marketing world under their brand name "Catholic to the Max," has been there before.
In 2005, Nelson said his company was forced to go from a four-person operation to a 12-person operation virtually overnight to meet the demand for framed pope pictures and T-shirts.
"This happened again in August 2008 when Pope Benedict came to the United States. As the official supplier of pope merchandise for the duration of his visit, Nelson Fine Art and Gifts again expanded its staff - this time to 30 full-time employees," Nelson said.
"It is very important for many of our customers to place a pre-sale order because of the homage we give the pope. He is the successor of Peter and the vicar of Christ. It is important for many Catholics to have something to honor Benedict and the man who will succeed him," said Nelson.
"We went though this when Benedict was elected to the papacy. But we had blue smoke at the Nelson house that day because our son Dominic was born. In fact we later added Benedict to his name because he was born the day Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was named pope," recalled Nelson.
"We will be watching the media like everyone else once the conclave starts. Once we learn the white smoke has appeared we will have a few hours to prepare for our first product. We have numerous sources to get the image and the name of the new pope. As I understand it, the cardinals will vote twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon. And then, usually, there are a few hours before we will learn who will be presented to the world," Nelson said.
"We will be working a lot of long hours the first few days. We anticipate a lot of shipments and orders. We will need a few days before we can come out with more affectionate images of the Holy Father as we get to know more about him. When Benedict was elected pope he said he was 'A humble servant in the vineyard of the Lord,' and that statement summed up his papacy," cited Nelson.
Nelson said it's more than meeting consumer demands that drives his catholictothemax.com Website to sell and promote pope merchandise.
"It's also a matter of religious importance that Catholic to the Max is honored to be a part of. It's a good thing that people want pictures of the Pope - they should want them. They should want to wear a T-shirt with his face on it because that's a sign of life in the Catholic Church. It's a sign that we love the holy father," explained Nelson.
"Since he announced his resignation, we have had a large demand for Benedict items. Not as large as the demand for John Paul II, but we had a number of years to get to know John Paul while we just had a few years with Benedict," he remarked.
"I do not have a favorite cardinal to be elected pope. I do know an American cardinal would have a significant impact on our business as well as the American Catholic Church. I just pray for the cardinals to choose a wise and holy man," declared Nelson.
"When the white smoke goes up, we'll be ready," Nelson promised.