This was the Pope’s week in America. Francis’ first visit on American soil was spectacular. The white-clad Pope, with his good will and constant smile, was a fresh breeze for a hard-working and stressed America. I was especially amazed by Francis’ command of the English language. In spite of his strong Spanish accent, it was wonderful to watch how perfectly he handled the rhythm intrinsic to the English language. One gets the feeling that this pope knows how to caress words like the heads of little children.
Aside from his incredible personality and energy, Pope Francis is also an amazing performer and a photogenic person. So when, after a very tiring day in Washington, he grabbed his leather bag and climbed the stairway to board his plane, the media went crazy. So crazy that I forgot to look to see if Francis was wearing the pair of soft, black hiking shoes that he normally wears to match his leather bag. What a pope!
So when the pope and his bag went viral on Twitter, I could not help but retweet a photo of the pope, asking, “So what is Pope carrying in his bag? His charisma!” I think that really fits him.
Another piece of news that went viral during the pope’s visit was the small Fiat that he used for transportation. Everybody noticed that even this larger version of the Fiat 500, some sort of station wagon – if one can use that term for a little Fiat – has been dwarfed by president Obama’s Beast, which cost $1 million and weighs 8 tons. Not only that, but the black Fiat 500L, with the large, white-clad pope riding in it, looked miniscule, especially amidst the black SUVs of the secret service. Everybody felt that the pope’s use of the small city car was meant to make a statement. There was no shortage of hypotheses about his message. The theories ranged from an appeal about climate change, to a call for people to live more modest lives, to a secret spiritual message. As usual, the smartest and the most cultured guess was a note from the New Yorker, while the Washington Post was more focused on facts and car brands. It was CNN that tried hardest to find meaning behind the choice, saying that the pope drove a Fiat as a reference to the famous phrase, “Fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terra” (“May your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”).
As usual, though, the reality is much more down-to-earth. Not many people know it, but every pope’s travel is paid by the journalists who travel on the plane with him. If a journalist wants to travel with the pope, he has to pay for it. I have no idea how expensive it was for journalists reporting on Francis’ visit to America, but I dare to say that it must have cost a few thousand dollars. Usually, the Vatican charges journalists for hotel bookings. And while the pope’s vehicle – the popemobile – used to be sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, Francis now also charges the sponsors for the small utility cars he uses, both abroad and in Rome. The list of cars used by the pope so far has been published by Il Sole 24 Ore, an Italian business paper. And, related to the pope’s U.S. visit, La Repubblica reported on negotiations between the Vatican and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). The paper claims that it was Francis who wanted a Fiat in America. FCA approved six cars, but Repubblica does not mention any other financial details. For FCA, the pope driving in a little Fiat is of enormous importance. As you can read in the Washington Post’s piece, the sales of Fiat cars in America are not exactly booming. Perhaps because the Italian owner is careful in promoting Fiat, the brand that now owns Chrysler and Jeep. Considering the warm welcome that Francis received in the U.S., the pope in a Fiat is an image that should guarantee a major commercial success – much more than the image of the former Russian President Gorbachev with his Vuitton bag in the back seat of his limo.
But Francis also has a little problem. In the past, Fiat was very harsh in negotiations with Italian unions. The company fired many workers and shut down two of its Italian factories. Two years ago, Fiat moved its headquarters to Holland and the U.S., and it is no longer listed in the Italian Stock Exchange – actions that are not exactly in line with pope’s prayers for precarious workers, are they?