SYDE Professor quoted in a USA Today story on the Popemobile.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — As he cruised past cheering crowds in Naples, Italy, earlier this year, Pope Francis received an unexpected gift. A local pizzeria owner jogging alongside the papal car jumped over a barrier and handed Francis a pizza, which the smiling pope willingly accepted.

While the incident delighted the crowd — and perhaps the pontiff, who loves pizza — it also exposed the pope’s vulnerability. Since his election in 2013, Francis has taken every opportunity to get close to his followers. That has included an insistence on riding in open vehicles, rather than the bulletproof-glass-bubbles that have been standard on “popemobiles” for more than three decades.

For 85 years, popemobiles have been carrying popes through large crowds, making it easier for more people to see the leader of the Catholic Church in person. The vehicles have gone through numerous iterations as the Vatican has tried to balance safety, accessibility, spontaneity and technological innovation. [Read more]