Pope Francis will not avail himself of bullet-proof vehicles during his three day trip to the Middle East and insisted on using normal cars to allow him to be as close as possible to the people, the Vatican said on Thursday.
“The pope wants an open pope-mobile and a normal car. The local security official took the desire of the pope into consideration,” said chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
“I don’t think there was too much discussion about that,” he said, hinting that local security officials had suggested the use of bulletproof vehicles but were over-ruled.
Francis’ predecessors were driven in bulletproof limousines on their trips, whether just around Rome or abroad.
Heads of state visiting the Middle East tend to use bulletproof cars.
Francis instead uses a blue Ford Focus in Rome – and at his own request, during his trip to Brazil last July was driven around Rio de Janeiro in a small silver Fiat.
Lombardi also said the Vatican was not overly concerned by threats to Christians scrawled by suspected Jewish extremists on church property in the Holy Land.
The decision is however expected to further complicate security arrangements for the pontiff’s trip, causing the closure of more roads and requiring a greater distance to be kept from the pope’s motorcade.
Police Chief Yohanan Danino on Sunday met with the Vatican’s ambassador to Israel, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, to discuss security preparations.
More than 8,000 officers will be involved in security details, with a wide range of operational units involved.
Separately, a group of Christians in Jerusalem wrote to Lazzarotto, saying that Israeli security forces were trying to deny them their “legitimate right” to greet their spiritual leader.
Agenzia Fides, a Christian missionary information service said that Jerusalem Catholics recently sent a letter to Lazzarotto, the apostolic delegate in Jerusalem and Palestine, in advance of the pope’s pilgrimage to the capital.
According to Fides, the initiative to write to Lazzarotto was launched by members of the Latin parish of St. Savior in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The letter claims that Israeli security will hinder meeting the pope in Jerusalem, and “attempts by the Israeli occupation to impose a curfew on the streets, including the Christian Quarter, during the visit is yet another attempt by the occupying power to deny our existence.”
The letter writers refer to themselves as the “indigenous Jerusalem population and descendants of the first Christians.”
“It is unacceptable for the Pope to pass along the narrow streets of the Christian quarter, yet find [it] devoid of any signs of life and the faithful,” the letter reads.