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The Pope Emeritus' New Shoes And The Mexican Man Who Makes Them

Feb 28, 2013
Originally published on March 1, 2013 8:42 am

As Pope Benedict XVI left the Vatican and his papacy, he slipped out of his trademark red shoes and put on a pair of Mexican leather loafers. The shoes, actually three pairs, two burgundy and one brown, were a gift to the Pope during his trip last year to Mexico.

Armando Martin Dueñas is the Catholic cobbler who made the pope's new favorite footwear. Martin Dueñas hails from the Mexican city of Leon, which has a 400-year history of shoe making. His great grandfather started the family tradition. But they've never received so much attention as they have this week. Tuesday the Vatican's spokesman said the pope would forgo wearing red papal shoes and spend his golden years in Mexican shoes.

The red shoes, by the way, is a tradition that dates back to 1566, when St. Pope Pius V, a White Dominican, decided to change the papal vestment from red to white. The pope's cap, cape and shoes are the only bits of red left from the pre-1566 days.

Since the former pope moves to his new role as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, he has to leave the red shoes behind. That's where Martin Dueñas' shoes come in. They are burgundy.

Martin says since the Vatican's announcement, his phone has been ringing off the hook.

When I reached him at his family's factory in Leon, he had just hung up with Fox News and had CNN waiting on the other line. Martin Dueñas said he's filled with great satisfaction that the pope enjoys his shoes so much. He said it's quite the honor.

Martin Dueñas' factory only makes about a thousand pairs a month, hand crafted from the skin of neo-natal lambs. And despite the fame he is enjoying now, a spokesman for the company says there are no plans to speed up production or ever outsource manufacturing from Mexico.

Anyone wanting to purchase a pair of the pontiff-preferred shoes has to call the factory directly. Jose Luis Rocha, Martin's longtime friend and business partner says it's too bad the pope couldn't have made his shoe preference public just two weeks later.

Rocha is building a U.S.-based website for the shoes from San Diego, California. The site is scheduled to go live March 11th. He's scouting retail locations too. The listed price for a pair of the prized shoes is about $200. Rocha says the ones provided to the pope however were priceless.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

On television screens around the world yesterday, people watched as Pope Benedict XVI gave up the Chair of St. Peter. As he did that he also gave up his trademark red shoes. And after slipping those off, he put on a pair of handmade Mexican loafers.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has this tale of a happy cobbler.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: When Pope Benedict came to Mexico last year, Armando Martin Duenas, a fourth generation artisan, gave the pontiff three pairs of his custom hand made loafers. To his great surprise a Vatican spokesman announced this week that, in retirement, the new Emeritus Pope Benedict, asked specifically for the Mexican shoes.

ARMANDO MARTIN DUENAS: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Martin said we are thrilled, thoroughly satisfied that the pope loves his shoes, which are made from the skins of newborn lambs. Martin's factory only makes a thousand pairs a month. And Jose Luis Rocha, Martin's childhood friend and U.S.-based business partner, says despite all the interest, there are no plans to speed up production.

Unfortunately, the pope's preference came a bit too early for the company. Their U.S. Web site isn't set to launch until March 11th. Retail price for the shoes will list at about $200. However, Rocha says the one's given to the pope, well, those were priceless.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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