One papal Fiat that can give Francis some mileage

Posted on 9/23/2015 11:50:59 AM

Pope Francis put his environmental credo into action as soon as he arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday. After getting a red- carpet welcome by President Barack Obama, the 78-year-old pope climbed into the back of a small, black Fiat 500L.

As the pontiff waved through a rolled down the window, the car pulled away and was quickly sandwiched between the hulking sport utility vehicles of the Secret Service for the motorcade from Joint Base Andrews to the Vatican's diplomatic outpost in Washington.

The optics were not lost on onlookers. "It is very easy to recognize where the pope is because it is the smallest car in the motorcade," said Father Federico Lombardi, the pope's spokesman.

Francis’s humble choice of wheels -- which is rated at an average 27 miles per gallon in unarmored versions -- underscores the religious leader's sensitivity to the power of symbols. He's called for action on climate change and church leaders show solidarity with poor by avoiding luxurious trappings. At the start of his papacy, he dumped the Vatican’s fleet of Mercedes limousines in favor of an old Ford Focus to travel around the city-state.

The sight of an economy car amid the trucks presented a jarring image in a city where Obama moves in an armored limousine nicknamed the "Beast'' that is preceded and followed by a lengthy train of armored SUVs and vans carrying Secret Service agents, aides and members of the media. For the pope's arrival that cavalcade was almost doubled by the presence of Vice President Joe Biden and his family.

"Francis is showing that he likes to continue the practice of being driven in something that is smaller than an American SUV," Bishop Christopher Coyne, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in an interview. "He’s also showing his desire that bishops live a simple life.''

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on its website that Francis will use six Fiat 500Ls in the cities he will visit -- Washington, New York and Philadelphia -- and a white open Jeep designed to allow crowds to see him.

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