Wednesday, Sep 26, 2018
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PAPAL VISIT TO UNITED STATES

Pope to ride again in Jeep Wrangler

Francis picks Toledo-built model

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Pope Francis’ Jeep Wrangler for the United States’ visit is expected to be similar to the white four-door Wrangler the Pope used while visiting Ecuador in July.

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Once home to the Pope Motor Car Co., the Glass City again can lay claim to being home of the popemobile.

The Vatican has confirmed that the Pope will use a modified Toledo-built Jeep Wrangler for his upcoming visit to the United States, a choice that papal experts say falls in line with the pontiff’s practical attitude and desire to be nearer to his flock.

“It doesn’t surprise me that this man is using a vehicle that’s more of the people than of the elite,” said Thomas Groome, a professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.

Mr. Groome heads the university’s Church in the 21st Century Center, studying issues like the crossover of religion and politics and how the Catholic church fits into modern society.

“It makes a statement,” he said. “It’s not artificial and it’s not contrived. It’s very real on his part. He’s on the side of the people and avoids the trappings of high office.”

The Wrangler, now in the hands of the Secret Service, is believed to be a regular production model. All Wranglers by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are made by its Toledo Assembly Complex. The vehicle will be modified to accommodate the Pope’s needs.

The Pope’s transportation draws considerable interest, in large part because of the highly modified and often armored vehicles used during past papal visits. Most of those recent vehicles have been made by Mercedes-Benz.

That has changed under Pope Francis, however.

“The Argentine Pope doesn’t want to ride through crowds under bulletproof glass, and so has generally insisted on an open vehicle. That has created headaches for his security people, but in this case the Pope has the final say,” said John Thavis, a Minnesota-based journalist who spent 30 years reporting on the Vatican and recently published a behind-the-scenes book about it.

It isn’t clear what modifications are being made to the Wrangler that Pope Francis will use during his late September visit, though the vehicle is expected to be similar to the white four-door Wrangler the Pope used while visiting Ecuador in July. That Jeep had a tall glass windscreen above the roof, but had open sides so the pontiff could be seen standing up by roadside crowds.

A spokesman for Jeep parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles declined to comment.

The Washington Post, which was first to report on the Pope’s new set of wheels, said the vehicle was in the hands of the U.S. Secret Service, which is coordinating security efforts for the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia. 

The Pope’s visit to the United States from Sept. 22 to Sept. 27 will include stops in Washington, New York City, and Philadelphia.

A spokesman for the Secret Service told The Blade on Friday that he couldn’t comment on what vehicle the Pope would use during his visit, nor on any modifications the agency may be helping with.

A number of different companies have provided papal transportation over the years. Mr. Thavis said the first was the long-defunct Graham-Page company, which in 1929 gave Pope Pius XI a vehicle. The modern idea of the “popemobile” didn’t come about until the reign of Pope Paul VI, who used a custom-designed 1976 Toyota Land Cruiser. Others that have provided the Vatican with vehicles include Ford, Fiat, and Hyundai, which made the Santa Fe Pope Francis used during his 2014 visit to South Korea.

Mr. Groome said it seems Pope Francis is making an effort when possible to ride in locally produced vehicles, so it makes sense that he would go after an American icon like the Wrangler.

“That he would use a Jeep Wrangler doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s a fine, sturdy vehicle, it’s well made, and it’s good enough for a pope,” he said.

Ironically, the Pope Motor Car Co. never got the chance to supply a pope with a Pope. The company, named after founder Albert Pope, shut down in 1909. And even if Mr. Pope would have been able to supply the Vatican with a car, then Pope Pius X wasn’t interested. Mr. Thavis said a New York archbishop tried to give the pope an Italian-made car in 1909, but the Holy See refused, saying he preferred the sound of a horse-drawn carriage.

Still, the Pope Motor Car Co. plays a small role in this story. After the factory shut down, it was purchased by a man named John North Willys.

Mr. Willys, of course, was behind the Willys-Overland Motor Co., which began manufacturing in the old Pope factory — and eventually launched the Jeep.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.

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