When Pope Francis arrived for his first visit to New York, he slipped into the backseat of a tiny Fiat 500L and was ferried away amid gas-guzzling SUVs and police cars.
There were dozens of vehicles: motorcycles, Chevrolet Suburbans and the pope’s car followed by more large SUVs and police patrol cars.
Francis has made a point of using particularly modest cars, part of his emphasis on simplicity, conservatism and rejection of a consumerist lifestyle. He uses a Ford Focus to get around the Vatican. During his visit to South Korea, he used a Kia.
His modest choice Thursday was in stark contrast with those of the US security agents guarding him and their souped-up vehicles.
He arrived in Manhattan in a helicopter from Kennedy Airport and then got into the Fiat. As the motorcade drove slowly to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the pope rolled down the windows and waved to crowds as he passed. He then switched to his Jeep popemobile and made his way to the cathedral.
The larger vehicles aren’t just for show, said Joseph LaSorsa, a former US Secret Service agent who runs LaSorsa and Associates, an international security consulting company based in North Carolina.
“I think, in this case, what you see are vehicles serving as blocking vehicles to provide a moving security barricade,” he said.
The multiagency initiative responsible for this level of security will spare no expense or man hour, considering the historic significance of the pope’s visit, he said. The larger the vehicle, the heavier and more substantial, and the level of security is not unlike that afforded to President Barack Obama, he said.
“Yes, he’s sending a message that he is who he is, a modest pope, but the motorcade, they are there for security reasons,” LaSorsa said.
Despite the security detail, the crowds were thrilled. Miranda Cespedes walked over to the East River to catch a glimpse of the motorcade passing by.
“There he is!” she shouted as it approached. “We love you! We love you!”
Even as she was laughing, she wiped a tear from her eye after Francis passed.
“I can’t believe I saw him,” she said, giggling. “He was going so slow! I feel so lucky.”