Q. All the recent hubbub over the pope's red shoes prompts these questions: Were they Prada, and how much did they cost? I'm sure we Catholics pay for them.
-- Judy, of Breese
A. In 2006, Hollywood showed us that "The Devil Wears Prada." Could it be that Pope Benedict XVI made questionable fashion choices concerning his very sole?
This was the rumor that began swirling after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005. Retiring the brown shoes worn by his predecessor, John Paul II, Benedict brought back the red loafers favored by many previous popes.
His fashion sense, which, included Serengeti sunglasses and Geox-donated walking shoes, quickly gained the notice of designers.
In its 2007 list of the best-dressed men in the world, Esquire magazine named Benedict "accessorizer of the year" for his ornate papal habits paired with those red shoes. Perhaps because of that, you'll still find stories that claim Benedict's red footwear are none other than that chi-chi Italian brand Prada costing who knows how much.
Well, those shoes are worth hundreds of dollars a pair, but they aren't Prada -- and they didn't cost Catholics a penny. They're the work of Adriano Stefanelli, an Italian shoemaker who, out of love for his church, reportedly began making shoes as a gift for the pope a decade ago.
"When I was a child and people would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I used to answer, 'I'd like to make the pope's shoes,'" Stefanelli told Catholic Online (www.catholic.org) in 2008. "Today, it seems to me, I've realized my childhood dream."
Continuing his father's profession, Stefanelli owns a shoe shop in Novara, which is about 30 miles west of Milan in northwest Italy. His connection with the Vatican began in 2003 as John Paul II's health continued to decline.
"He was very ill, and I was very moved," Stefanelli said. "I wondered, 'What could I do to alleviate his pain?' Since I can make shoes, I thought that the only thing I could do was to make a pair for him."
His loving work continued when Benedict became pope.
"When they wanted to order a new pair, his secretary wrote to me, saying the pope had a shoe size of 42 (8 1/2-American) and he didn't have any particular problem with his feet," Stefanelli said. "So I made a pair for a normal foot of that size."
The shoes -- which Stefanelli describes as "ruby red, almost bordeaux" -- are hand-sewn and take nearly a month to make. If you wanted a pair, you'd have your wallet lightened by about $550 -- and that was four years ago. The pope's shoes, which Stefanelli personalized with Benedict's initials, are free.
The return to red served several purposes for Benedict, who loves cats and relaxed at night by practicing the piano, Lawrence Cunningham, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, told National Public Radio in 2008, when the shoe talk began.
Traditionally, he said, red is worn to symbolize the blood shed by Catholic martyrs. It also signifies the burning fire of God's love. On Pentecost, for example, red vestments are worn to commemorate the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles with tongues of fire resting on their heads.
The red shoes further strengthen those ties from 2,000 years ago and were likely a fond memory from Benedict's days as a cardinal.
"Benedict said that he is a strong believer in continuity," Cunningham said. "What he wants to do is to reflect in many, many different ways -- dress being a minor way -- that he likens himself to previous popes and previous fashions worn by popes. This is a man who does not favor the notion of rupture in the church."
Q. Some friends are looking for a movie called "Ghost Riders" with Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott. Stores have never hearD of it. Have you?
-- G.D., of Waterloo
A. They don't stand a ghost of a chance of finding it if they're searching for that title. What they're looking for is "The Shadow Riders." It's a 1982 Louis L'Amour, made-for-TV movie with Selleck and Elliott as two brothers who have to work together to save their family after fighting on opposite sides in the Civil War. If you can't find it in stores, it's easily available at Amazon.com for as little as $5 used.
What country's name translates as "The Savior"?
Answer to Tuesday's trivia: In October 1948, author George Orwell wrote his publisher, Fredric Warburg, that he was still conflicted over what to call his latest novel: "The Last Man in Europe" -- or "Nineteen Eighty-Four"? Warburg suggested he go with the title that was more commercial, and the rest is history. By 1989, the novel that depicts a nightmarish, totalitarian society had been translated into at least 65 other languages, more than any other English novel at that time. Some say Orwell chose "84" as a reverse of "48," the year he wrote the novel because he was becoming disillusioned by the growing Cold War.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org