Now playing: holy medals at the movies

From the In My Backyard Desk — and this really is in my backyard, just four blocks from my apartment and three blocks from my church — comes this story about a local movie theater mixing holiness with Hollywood:

Among the Pikachu and Spider-Man charms that roll out of vending machines at the Midway Theater are icons with more spiritual depth  — including St. Francis of Assisi.

A machine at the popular theater at 108-22 Queens Boulevard sells what it bills as “patron saints medals necklaces,” which are actually plastic pendants on chains.

“It really does go to show people can find their faith in their daily lives if they look hard enough,” said Stefanie Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which covers Queens.

Not everyone views the 50-cent pendants positively. Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and founder of, said she thought reducing patron saints to poor-quality pendants on sale at a movie theater exhibited poor taste.

“I wouldn’t ban it, but I just don’t think it’s the most appropriate thing,” Brown said.

The gold-colored pendants, which sport the face of a saint on one side and the words “Pray for Us” on the other, seem out of place next to machines selling gumballs and low-quality rings and bracelets.

But the medals’ manufacturer, Maryland-based A & A Global Industries, said the patron saint medals, like most vending machine fare, reflect what interests local residents.

“Vending machines are trends and fads within the marketplace,” said Phillip Brilliant, the company’s vice president of licensing and marketing. “It’s very poignant as to what’s going on in society.”

Brilliant said the patron saint medals may be more popular in Queens due to its large population of Latinos, many of which are Catholic. He also said that religious iconography boomed in popularity in New York City after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Moviegoers can score pendants featuring one of 10 saints: St. Francis, the patron saint of animals and the environment; St. Philomena (children); St. Rose of Lima (florists and South America); St. Christopher (travelers); St. Anthony (lost items); St. Thomas Aquinas (scholars and students); St. Joan of Arc (soldiers); St. Jude (lost causes); St. Joseph (fathers and families); and St. Luke (artists and doctors).

Gutierrez pointed out that the pendants sold in the vending machine probably aren’t blessed by priests, as are most miraculous medals sold by Catholic organizations. But she said she wasn’t offended by the pendants since they still represent revered saints.

“It’s a reminder that the person who the image represents was holy,” Gutierrez said. “It’s very much the same as why we would take photos of family and loved ones as a reminder of our love for them and their love for us.”

Read the rest.

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