About the Popemobile

During recent visits both to the United States (Washington D.C, where he was welcomed by President Barack Obama, and then later New York City and Philadelphia) and countries in South America, the Pope was shuttled around in Jeep Wrangler Popemobiles custom-built for his travels. Previously he has traveled in other car brands, such as Kia, Hyundai, Isuzu, and, less frequently, a Mercedes Benz.  For his United States visit, however, he chose a Jeep, which US Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealers approved of. Although “Popemobile” is an informal name, it refers to a serious vehicle for the Pope to make outdoor appearances in.

You could say using this vehicle, rather than the more prestigious ones that his predecessors have preferred to use instead, is an example of the image Francis is trying to project to the world. He even drives himself around the Vatican City sometimes.

Did you notice that the Pope was meeting the public without glass shielding? The Popemobile was traditionally an open-top vehicle until the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981. After that, John Paul and his successor, Benedict, rarely made parade appearances when not surrounded by four sides of bulletproof glass that doubled as an air purifier if a biological or chemical attack occurred. Pope Francis has steered away from this tradition though. “It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose,” he said, to people who were shocked when they heard or saw this news. “I know that something could happen to me, but it’s (really) in the hands of God.”

But maybe he hasn’t steered all the way from it. The Wrangler Popemobiles may not be prestigious but they are far from being typical Jeeps. The Vatican and the Secret Service (that spent months personalizing the Popemobile) refuse to release any kind of technical information on the current Popemobiles but the vehicles used by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had some neat features. One may assume similar characteristics would apply to the Wrangler Popemobiles. For example, the Mercedes-Benz Pope Benedict rode in when he visited the U.S. in 2008 was specially designed to drive up to 160 mph in the event of an emergency. Clearly this isn’t your ordinary vehicle. Pope Benedict’s Mercedes was equipped for roadway sabotage as well, with special tires capable of rolling if suddenly deflated, at speeds as fast as 70 mph. The downside of the SUV was braced with thick steel plating to protect the Pope in event of an IED explosion. That’s what the sales manager at Reedman-Toll Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM in Langhorne, PA tells us.

Now that the Pope’s visit to the U.S. has ended, the nation has some time to reflect on his message and what his whole visit meant. What was fascinating about his visit, though, was his selection of vehicles and how strongly he felt about the image they portrayed. His message is certainly a strong one and something that will stay with some people throughout his chapter in Papal history.

  

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