A Fiat is worth a thousand words as Pope Francis opts for humble ride

The pontiff made his first journey on US soil in a modest family car sending out a message of humility and possibly a foretaste of his environmental message

There were no public words from Pope Francis when the 78-year-old landed on American soil for the first time. But his car, a modest black Fiat 500L, said it all.

His choice to stick to an understated classic in a country where big cars rule the road and in a city that favours idling Suburban SUVs seemed to be giving Francis’s first meaningful message to his American hosts: that he is a humble man, and one who tries to avoid the trappings of his elected office as Bishop of Rome.

To see such an important foreign dignitary driving off in a Fiat was so unusual that CNN anchor Jake Tapper speculated on live television that there “must be” some “bells and whistles” of which the public was not aware. As if the Fiat had just been passed on to the pope from James Bond.

The choice of vehicle may also have reflected Pope Francis’s commitment to environmental stewardship. His encyclical on climate change, which will be a major focus of his five-day trip to the US and his speech before the United Nations, is focused on the need to care for both the environment and the poor. The politically savvy Vatican would surely have wanted to avoid the pope being seen in a gas guzzler.

According to a Vatican briefing last week, this is not the car that Pope Francis will be using in New York, where a special Popemobile has been made for him by Jeep, another brand owned by the Italian American manufacturer Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The Vatican pointed out that this Popemobile, which he will ride through the streets of Manhattan, is made in the US.

The pope does not usually travel in a Fiat when he is in Rome, opting instead for a Ford Focus. When he became pope in 2013, Francis told priests to choose more humble vehicles, according to press reports at the time, and to focus more on the poor.

His old blue Ford – which is believed to be a 2008 model – could not be more different from the wheels of his German predecessor, who enjoyed the comfort of a Mercedes Popemobile.

According to a report by the Washington Post, which looked at the history of the Popemobile, Francis has shunned an elegant Mercedes Popemobile for other cars that have been modified, including models by Jeep, Toyota, Isuzu, Kia, Hyundai, and Land Rover.


Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome

The GuardianTramp

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