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VATICAN LETTER Jul-14-2006 (850 words) Backgrounder. With photos. xxxi

'Go, Pope. Go!' Popes move by foot, train, plane or car

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) --If children's author P.D. Eastman had written a sequel to his book "Go, Dog. Go!" about dogs on the move, it could have been about the many ways the pope gets around and would be called "Go, Pope. Go!"

Back in the old days, a pope, like many people, was limited to horses and carriages. But he also had the grand "sedia gestatoria," or portable papal throne to move effortlessly through the crowds of the faithful during special ceremonies.

The red velvet chair was carried on the shoulders of 12 "sediari" or chair-carriers dressed in bright red uniforms. But the papal throne was mothballed in 1978 after the start of Pope John Paul I's pontificate.

Modern-day popes get around by car, train, plane and helicopter. And instead of a special chair powered by 24 legs, they now have the gas-powered popemobile, serving much the same purpose: to raise the Holy Father up above the crowds so he can be seen from afar.

The first papal car pulled into the Vatican in 1909 when then-Archbishop John M. Farley of New York donated the newfangled mode of transport to Pope Pius X. However, the pope apparently wasn't impressed with the new technology and stuck to his horse and landau carriage.

But a car would have been useless at the time. Pope Pius didn't have much of anyplace to go since a dispute with the Italian government over the sovereignty of the Holy See kept popes confined to Vatican City from 1870 to 1929.

When the 1929 Lateran Pacts finally allowed popes to go freely outside Vatican City walls, Pope Pius XI became the first pope to put the rubber to the road in a U.S. Graham-Paige.

He amassed a small fleet of donated papal cars and became something of an auto aficionado.

Msgr. Charles Burns, a Scottish historian and retired official of the Vatican Secret Archives, said, "There are photos of (Pope Pius XI) examining the innards of a Mercedes. He was interested in those things" and he would ask all about the car's engine and features before going out for a test ride through the Vatican Gardens.

Soon the so-called "iron horse" puffed its way into town when the first steam locomotive arrived at the Vatican in 1932. However, the first time a pope used the Vatican railroad wasn't until 1962 when Pope John XXIII boarded the papal train to travel to Italy's Assisi and Loreto. Pope John Paul II chugged along the papal tracks twice, once in 1979 and again in 2002 to Assisi.

After being held up in the Vatican for most of his 1903-1914 pontificate, Pope Pius X finally did leave in 1959 when his remains were transferred from the Vatican by papal train to Venice.

The railway is still active, but not with commuting popes and passengers. Freight trains trucking in goods for sale or use in the Vatican are the only locomotives pulling up to the small station.

The sky was no longer the limit when the Vatican built its own heliport in 1976 on the hill of Vatican City's far western tip. The Italian government makes its own presidential chopper available to the pope to use for travel to nearby Castel Gandolfo or Rome's airports.

Italy's airline, Alitalia, and other national airlines make a modified plane available for the pope when he travels outside Italy. It can accommodate the pope and his staff in a more spacious, private area and then leaves regular, economy seating in the back for journalists accompanying the pope.

The papal fleet sporadically included an electric car which first appeared on the world scene in New York in 1912, said Msgr. Burns. The car was donated to Pope Pius X, but Msgr. Burns said historians are unsure whether the car ever arrived in the Vatican or if the pope ever rode in it.

A small electric car was used at Castel Gandolfo toward the end of Pope John Paul's pontificate when he was no longer able to move easily around the grounds.

Daniele Dalvai, who as director of the Vatican's General Services is in charge of the papal garage, said Pope Benedict XVI has an official fleet of five cars that are used regularly: 2002 and 2003 white, bulletproof Mercedes-Benz popemobiles, two new black Mercedes-Benz sedans, and a 1980 white Fiat Campagnola jeep -- the same open-air jeep Pope John Paul was riding in when he was shot in St. Peter's Square in 1981.

Carmakers regularly donate vehicles to the pope, including firetrucks and ambulances which get used inside Vatican City. Dalvai said the pope decides where extra vehicles go. For example, the pope gave a recently donated Volvo sport utility vehicle to Vatican security personnel.

But every pope has always relied on his own two feet. Pope Benedict, like many popes before him, loves to walk and heads out to the Vatican Gardens every evening for a stroll.

So ... go, pope. Go! By foot, plane, train or car.


Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
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