VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has told a Spanish newspaper that he prefers not to use a bulletproof Popemobile despite the dangers of an assassination attempt because it is a glass “sardine can” which walls him off from people.
“It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose,” he told Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia in an interview published Friday and reported on in English by Vatican Radio.
“I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God.”
Since an assassination attempt on then-Pope John Paul II in 1981, the head of the Roman Catholic Church has customarily used the custom-made glass-sided Popemobile when in public.
But Francis has taken his own approach to transport since assuming the papacy last year — creating a headache for those tasked with ensuring his security.
On a trip to Brazil, he climbed into a silver hatchback Fiat for the drive from the airport to downtown Rio de Janeiro. Along the route, the vehicle became pinned between a bus and a crush of well-wishers who were reaching into the car to touch the Pope. Security was stepped up after that incident.
He’s also used an open-topped vehicle, rather than the enclosed, bulletproof version preferred by Benedict, for tours through crowds of the faithful in St. Peter’s Square.
The Pope’s recent trip to the Holy Land, during which he made stops in Jordan, the West Bank and Jerusalem, is likely to have posed additional significant security challenges.
But he sees being able to speak with and meet people directly as a key part of his pastoral role as pontiff.
Another Pope Emeritus?
In the interview with La Vanguardia, Francis also did not rule out following in the footsteps of his predecessor in the role, Benedict XVI, who stood down from the papacy citing age and frailty.
Francis described Benedict’s retirement as a “great gesture” which opened the door to the creation of an institution of Pope Emeritus, as Benedict is now known, according to Vatican Radio.
“As we live longer, we get to an age at which we cannot carry on with things,” Francis said. “I will do the same as he did: ask the Lord enlighten me when the moment comes and tell me what I have to do, and he will tell me for sure.”
He speaks too of his commitment to interfaith relations and his hopes for Middle East peace.
Asked finally how he would like to be remembered in history, Francis said he hadn’t thought about it, according to Vatican Radio.
“But,” he said, “I like it when you recall someone and say ‘he was a good guy, he did what he could, and he was not that bad.’ With that, I would be content.”
Would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca shot John Paul II in the abdomen, arm and hand, as he was driven through St Peter’s Square, Rome on May 13, 1981.
The then-Pope suffered life-threatening injuries in the attack, but recovered after undergoing major surgery; he later forgave Agca after meeting him in prison.
Agca, who has never fully explained the reasons behind his attempt to kill John Paul II, was jailed for life; he was pardoned in 2000 after almost 20 years behind bars, and deported back to Turkey. The gun is currently on loan to the John Paul II Museum in his hometown, Wadowice.
John Paul II was canonized, or made a saint, in April, along with Pope John XXIII.