VIDEO: Pope Merchandise at The Littlest Angel


A Grapevine Newspaper Feature Story

By Mickey Brandt

It’s startling. A life-size poster-board cutout of Pope Francis just like one you’d see of Matt Damon in a theater lobby promoting The Martian. But this one’s in a Christian bookstore, The Littlest Angel in Vineland, NJ, and it’s promoting a different brand of star.
The odd item is there to attract customers to official Pope merchandise, offered in connection with the Pontiff’s September 26-27 visit to nearby Philadelphia.
Almost every customer has a photo taken with the cardboard Pope, or snaps a selfie, matching their pose to Francis’ smile and thumbs up gesture.
Nearby are several table and wall displays of religious icons, books, photos, art, plaques, statues, coffee cups, and T-shirts, each reflecting the Pontiff and the faith. Some clever items feature the Pope’s tweets.
Startling also was talking to owners Sharon Riggins and her son Scott because neither mentioned that anything was even for sale or indicated I should publicize it. Instead, I learned this is a store not of merchandise but of ministry. And divine intervention keeps it alive.
“We wouldn’t have been here all these years (since 1991) if God’s hand hadn’t been helping us,” said Sharon. “It’s been a monetary struggle, but our blessings have been abundant.”
The blessings reflect the core of Littlest Angel and of Catholicism itself—helping people get closer to God and follow a faith-filled, sacramental life.
“The Word tells us how we should live,” said Scott.
Part of the pair’s life is seven-day-a-week attendance at morning mass in Sacred Heart Church across the street.
Because of their location, the Rigginses regularly encounter poverty-stricken families and homeless people. Many come in with serious burdens and leave with as much comfort and hope the mother and son can provide.
“They need to talk; they are wonderful people, but they are struggling,” said Scott. “We all have to remember that every person is a child of God, worthy of our respect and love.”
The Littlest Angel apparently never had a conventional business plan, but some think what’s in place is the ultimate one.
I asked Sharon what the store’s name means. “Angels are the messengers of God,” she answered.
“What do you do when business gets insecure?,” I asked Scott. “Pray,” he said with a shrug.
What does he think is the shop’s future? “That’s up to the Lord,” was his reply.
I have a different view of how this life and universe work, but it’s hard to walk out of The Littlest Angel without a new concept of what certainty feels like. —M.B.
The Littlest Angel Bookstore, 923 Landis Avenue, Vineland NJ is open Monday through Saturday 10:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (5 p.m. Saturday).

SNJ Today is a Southern New Jersey news and information source based in Millville, New Jersey that is dedicated to providing current stories related specifically to South Jersey.