The famous popemobile

There’s perhaps no other signature vehicle in the world more well-known than the popemobile.

Tall and boxy or sleek and chic, it’s the one white ride that always catches people’s eye, mostly because of the special passenger waving inside.

The popemobile is a specially modified vehicle that gives the pope enough elevation and visibility that people can see him more easily as he rides through a crowd.

Its top and sides can be open or partially or fully enclosed with thick bullet-proof glass, depending on the venue and what security personnel decide.

Pope Francis, who preferred subways over SUVs when he lived in Buenos Aires, has lamented the “sardine can” feel from high-security popemobiles.

“I cannot greet a nation and tell it that I love it from inside a sardine can, even one made of glass. For me, that is a wall,” he said in an interview in 2014. “It’s true that something can happen to me, but let’s be realistic, at my age I don’t have much to lose.”

It was probably only natural that his church-whose-doors-are-open philosophy also apply to the popemobile. Before his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, he occasionally picks up “hitchhikers” for a spin — mostly school kids, and once a priest from his former archdiocese.

The open popemobile also entices people to engage in a game of toss — hefting hats, T-shirts, rosaries, flowers, flags, notes and other goodies toward the pope, who almost always makes the catch.

In his visit to the United States, Pope Francis used a modified Jeep Wrangler like the one he used in Ecuador in July.

The Vatican ships the popemobile by special air cargo to the cities he will be visiting abroad. If the cities are many or far apart, the Vatican will ship more than one vehicle.

There is also a backup vehicle in case of mechanical difficulties. Continue reading

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