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‘I’m only here for the cheese steaks’ and other Philadelphia pope souvenirs

Marta Priede, 68, came to Philadelphia from West Palm Beach, Fla., to see the pope. On Wednesday, she bought souvenirs, including this T-shirt and a button that says, "I was there."

Marta Priede, 68, came to Philadelphia from West Palm Beach, Fla., to see the pope. On Wednesday, she bought souvenirs, including this T-shirt and a button that says, “I was there.”

(Molly Hennessy-Fiske/Los Angeles Times)

Pope Francis won’t arrive here until Saturday, but already roads are being closed, cars are being towed and vendors have set up shop on the sidewalks surrounding the convention center, selling all manner of souvenirs.

T-shirts, buttons, photos -- they’re being hawked in Spanish and English.

Those unable to sell in Spanish have been urged to brush up. One vendor on Wednesday wore a sombrero, which attracted a group of visitors from Mexico who bought handfuls of commemorative photos.

Marta Priede, 68, of West Palm Beach, Fla., snagged a Pope Francis button that said “I was there,” as well as a T-shirt bearing the pontiff’s image and the message, “I’m only here for the cheese steaks.”

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FULL COVERAGE: Pope Francis visits the U.S.

“I love of the pope: his humility, his love. And his mind is open,” she said. “We need to attract more young people to to the church, and he’s really giving the love of Christ through his preaching.”

Amid the throngs, Gabriel Stephens set up speakers and started blasting a surprising type of Christian rock. It was the kind of sound more typically heard at raves.

The Priests of Beat had arrived.

Stephens, 25, of Las Vegas, set the voices of chanting Chilean monks to the beat of fast-paced electronic, or trance, music.

“We want to take the same quality of music and put it with the heavenly father,” he said as he stood bopping along to the beat.

Stephens acknowledged that electronica has long been the soundtrack of raves, replete with
references to sex and drugs. But his colleague Sarah Joy, 30, said they’re trying to change that: “We’re going for the truth of scripture, what brings people closer to God.”

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