A rosary package with the image of Pope Francis is displayed in a tourist shop outside the Vatican in Rome. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Paul Hanna

Roman police seize thousands of fake Vatican souvenirs

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Police raided a storeroom near St. Peter's Square and seized a cache of Vatican souvenirs and trinkets including flags, bracelets and key rings bearing Pope Francis’ image.

The souvenirs, numbering some 340,000, were confiscated because they were counterfeit, Rome’s financial police said in a statement Monday (May 2).

In addition to using the pope’s photo without permission, the souvenirs illegally carried the Vatican coat of arms and the emblem of the papal tiara.

The merchants selling the trinkets wanted to take advantage of increased tourism to Rome associated with the pope’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, the police said.

The haul would have fetched about 1.7 million euros ($1.96 million) on the market, according to the statement.

The discovery was made after a routine check of a van, which was found to be transporting the souvenirs. Police were later able to track down a storeroom behind a hidden door near St. Peter’s Square.

Three people were arrested on charges of counterfeiting, receiving stolen goods and breaching copyright.

The souvenir raid follows a police operation in December in which authorities seized 3,500 fake papal parchments. The parchments, valued at 70,000 euros (or $80,600), included a counterfeit blessing from Pope Francis in multiple languages, police said at the time.

Official souvenirs must be sold by street vendors who obtain the Vatican’s permission.

(Rosie Scammell is RNS' Vatican correspondent)