Pope Francis’s U.S. visit is inching ever closer, and the majority of Americans planning to see him are very, very excited. But there are more than few people who are just very, very nervous about the events unfolding over the next five days.
As the New York Times explained it, “the Secret Service will take the lead in what is considered by national security experts to be excruciatingly difficult: protecting a pope who does not want to stay in his popemobile.”
The Pope has a pretty sweet ride for his five-day stay in the country, according to the Gothamist. He’ll be cruising down the streets of Main St., U.S.A. in a “tricked-out four-door Jeep Wrangler,” which was shipped over to the Secret Service earlier this summer. It’s expected to be similar to the popemobile used during his trip in Ecuador, which had a canopy and a front shield made of bulletproof glass — but didn’t entirely encase the Holy Father in a bubble, as previous popes have requested.
The NYT reported that the pope’s visit this week will likely be “one of the biggest security challenges of his two-and-a-half-year papacy,” and already his visit in Cuba resulted in a small security scare. The Associated Press reported that a Cuban dissident “began emotionally appealing to the pope and grabbing onto the popemobile as it drove through the crowd before the service [in Havana].”
Just as this latest encounter wasn’t intended to harm the Pope, most of the breaches in safety aren’t meant to hurt Papa Frank.
“The crowds throw things,” said Joseph P. Clancy, the head of the Secret Service. “They throw flags, dolls and, obviously, babies towards him. It’s difficult because we don’t want our agents to overreact.”
All of this commotion can easily lead to one bad case of distracted driving, but unlike the other 20% of car crashes that result from texting or kids wrestling in the back seat, an accident involving the popemobile would be considered an international crisis. The Vatican is technically its own country — a fact that many people forget — with the pope as its excessively-pleasant autocrat.
U.S. officials aren’t just in charge of protecting a beloved religious leader; they’re trying to protect a foreign dignitary who would rather walk through a crowd of people and greet them, instead of hiding in an Escalade with a baseball hat and sunglasses.
Pope Francis’s first visit to the U.S. includes three major stops: Washington, D.C. from Sept. 22-24; New York City from Sept. 24-25, and finally Philadelphia from Sept. 26-27.
The Secret Service will certainly have its hands full throughout the entire five days, but 78-year-old Pope Francis doesn’t seem too worried about his own personal safety.
“It’s true that anything could happen,” the pope said in a 2014 interview when asked about his transportation choice. “But let’s face it, at my age, I don’t have much to lose.”