An Argentine silversmith has invited multitudes of well-wishers to hammer thousands of chisel marks onto a silver chalice he is designing as a gift for Pope Francis.
Juan Carlos Pallarols, who created the silver roses that adorn the tomb of Princess Diana, said the chalice was originally intended for an exhibition of his work at the Vatican galleries.
"Then Benedict XVI resigned and I thought it would be for the new pope. But Jorge Bergoglio was named and I said to myself: 'It will also be for a friend'," Pallarols told AFP.
"I have sipped mate with this pope, and I have eaten with him many times. I've talked to him a lot. He is a very sensible and simple person, and it's not a pose. He has been here several times," said Pallarols.
Like good neighbors, the artist and the priest often ran into each other getting their hair cut at a local barbershop. He said the cardinal told him: "Don't call me monsignor, call me Jorge."
Knowing the new pope socially has given the 70-year-old silversmith the impetus to create a more personal design, which he will take to Rome on Sunday, along with an ingot of silver for the pope's blessing.
Interviewed at his place of work in Buenos Aires' San Telmo neighborhood, Pallarols was seated at a broad desk in a spacious office filled with his creations, next to the workshop where he works every day.
Pallarols wanted the chalice to reflect the fact that the new pope is also a fan of Argentina's San Lorenzo football club.
"But since I can't put the club's coat of arms on the chalice, I'll put a kind of little 'martyr's grill' on it. He'll know what it means," he said.
The grill is a symbol used by Father Lorenzo Massa, the club's founder in 1908, to allude to the club's namesake, Saint Lawrence, one of the first Christian martyrs, who was burned to death on a grill in the year 258.
The chalice will also bear "the image of the virgin Desatanudos, who the pope loves; the virgin of Lujan, patroness of the Argentines; the Jesuit emblem with grapes and wheat, which allude to wine and bread, symbols of the eucharistic mystery to which Bergoglio is devoted."
In his office is a beautiful orchid and roses fashioned from silver, similar to those Pallarols made for Diana's tomb and more recently for Argentine-born Princess Maxima, who will be crowned queen of the Netherlands April 30.
Pallarols likes to involve the public in his creations. Cardinal Bergoglio added his own chisel strokes to those of 600,000 people on a chalice that they carried together to Benedict XVI in 2006.
The silversmith, who identifies as "a Catholic but one critical of the Church," said the chalice will be on display for 30 days at the Vatican Gallery where visitors will be able to hammer their own chisel mark for Francis.
The project will take several months to complete, he said.
"It takes time for so many people to participate. They are happy even if they are contributing just a gram of silver. There are people who consider it a gift from heaven," said the artist, who comes from a line of silversmiths that originated in Barcelona in 1750.
To go up the stairs into his workshop is to enter a medieval world, with helmets, shields, paintings, statues and hundreds of tools from different eras.
A sculpture of a silver smith at work greets the visitor with the phrase: "All successful enterprises require a certain dose of madness."
In a hallway is a mask of Argentine legend Eva Peron, chiseled by some 300,000 people, said Pallarols, who also creates the ceremonial batons used in every presidential inauguration since Argentina's return to democracy in 1983.
Three million people left their mark on the baton used by President Cristina Kirchner when she took the oath of office in 2011.