Pope Francis to Shun Popemobile on Mideast Trip: Vatican

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/ Source: Reuters

Pope Francis will shun bulletproof vehicles during a trip to the Middle East this month and has insisted on using a normal car so he can be as close to the people as possible, the Vatican said Thursday.

"The pope wants an open popemobile and a normal car,” said chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, who hinted that local security officials had suggested the use of bulletproof vehicles but were over-ruled.

Previous pontiffs were driven in bulletproof limousines on trips whether in Rome or abroad, after the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II who was travelling in an open top vehicle when he was shot. Heads of state visiting the Middle East tend to use bulletproof cars.

Security broke down and police were unable to control crowds in Brazil last year when Francis was driven around Rio de Janeiro in a small silver Fiat at his own request, but Lombardi said he did not expect similar scenes in the Middle East because Catholics are a minority there.

The Vatican was not overly concerned by threats to Christians scrawled by suspected Jewish extremists on church property in Israel, he added.

"Death to Arabs and Christians and all those who hate Israel," was daubed in Hebrew on an outer column of the Office of the Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center in East Jerusalem on Monday, where Francis is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

More than 200 Orthodox Jews protested on Monday against the pope's planned visit to the site where Christians believe Jesus Christ had his Last Supper on Monday.

Francis is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the center on the last day of trip, his first as pope to the region. He will also visit Jordan and the Palestinian Territories.