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How the Popemobile Works

        Auto | Unusual Cars

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his final general audience on Feb. 27, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Pope Benedict XVI waves to the faithful as he arrives in St. Peter's Square for his final general audience on Feb. 27, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.
(Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Pope Francis I used to take the bus. But back then, the denizens of Buenos Aires called him Father Jorge. His colleagues knew him as Cardinal Jorge Mario Begoglio. As the top-ranking Catholic around, he was entitled to cruise around in a chauffeured limo. But he was a simple guy; anecdotes suggest he liked making friends on the bus and people recognized and appreciated his humility.

Pope Francis I, who was elected on March 13, 2013, spent the first few days on the job being a bit stubborn -- he opted out of his first ride in the popemobile, a heavily modified Mercedes, so he could hang out with his cardinal buddies on the bus they'd all used to arrive at conclave. The next day, he again bypassed the popemobile in favor of a much less aggressive German-engineered car: a Volkswagen [source: Palmo]. His election was a surprise to pretty much everyone, and the Vatican's spokespeople seemed more amused than annoyed by his actions.

Whether or not it'll last, well, that remains to be seen. The papacy is clearly a more demanding job than being a cardinal, and it comes with the additional stress of stricter security standards. The Catholic Church has hinted that even Pope Francis agrees -- under such circumstances, an armored Mercedes isn't an extravagance. It's actually reasonable. Once Pope Francis becomes more accustomed to his new surroundings (and realizes that the public transit options in Vatican City are a bit limited) perhaps he'll acquiesce.

Of course, the Mercedes in question is just the latest in a long line of safe, cushy rides ... but it does need to be said, though, that Pope Francis is not the first pontiff who's had a fondness for VWs.


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