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John Paul II liked his Mercedes, but will Benedict XVI go VW?Image: dpa

Papal Driver Wanted

DW staff (tt)
April 21, 2005

The first German pope in centuries is coming to his home country in August. One German carmaker is already offering a small miracle on four wheels.


The so-called Popemobile is not just a car: It's a symbol of the fast-paced, globe-trotting pontificate of the late John Paul II, a bullet-proof reminder of the security measures needed to protect the life of the Holy Father, and sometimes even a somewhat bizarre object of unexpected religious veneration.

Papst in Kroatien
Pope John Paul II waves to the crowd from his car while driving along the sea shore upon his arrival at the port of Dubrovnik, southern Croatia in 2003Image: AP

After Pope John Paul II died, the vehicle he used during his visit to the Philippines in 1995 was driven back from oblivion and parked in front of a church to give those unable to travel to Rome a place to pay their last respects. It instantly became a popular pilgrimage site with eyewitnesses reporting that they felt the pope's presence by simply being next to the car.

Now there's a new pope and, needless to say, he needs a new car to go along with that freshly renovated papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace. Confirming a report in the German mass-circulation daily Bild, a Volkswagen spokesman said that Europe's leading carmaker would be interested in building a vehicle for Benedict XVI when he attends the World Youth Day celebrations in August in Cologne. Volkswagen would be one of the sponsors for the event, making available at least 100 vehicles.

Papal Phaeton?

"If a special vehicle is required for the pope, we will build it," the spokesman said, declining to give any indication of the costs involved in producing such a car.

Gerhard Schröder vor einem VW Phaeton
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder already enjoys his VW limousineImage: AP

The bullet-proof Popemobile was first introduced after the 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul II. The Volkswagen version would be based on the group's luxury Touareg or Phaeton models rather than the mass-production Polo, and tailored especially to the pope's requirements, the spokesman said.

No wonder. German carmakers like to be included into the annals of the pontifical transportation history: Mercedes-Benz, part of Volkswagen's rival DaimlerChrysler, has been the previous popemobil purveyor.

Papst Benedikt in Rom
Pope Benedict XVI's still relying on regular carsImage: AP

It seems doubtful, however, whether either company's offering its help for purely altruistic reasons. After all, investing into the pontiff's vehicle is probably a wise decision -- the new pope is German, and what would be more appropriate than seeing a German pope in a German car, racing into the future?

The whole world will get to know it and learn to love it. And if Volkswagen gets really lucky, its vehicle may even one day become the site of a miracle, not only in the Philippines but everywhere, or urbi et orbi, as those Latin lovers from the Vatican like to put it.

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