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

Armando Martin Dueñas shows a replica of one of the hand-crafted loafers that were given to Pope Benedict XVI during his March 2012 visit to Mexico at the Ackerman shoe factory in Leon, Mexico.
Alfredo Valadez

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 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Kahn
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.