Revered Popemobile to make the rounds of PHL churches
The fully armored, bullet-proof vehicle served as a protective shield safeguarding the Pope on his way to Luneta Park, where the Christian gathering which drew around 5 million believers from all over the country, was held.
Traditionally, the Pope drove around in an enclosure-less vehicle; but following an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 at St. Peter's Square, security considerations for the Holy See were understandably heightened.
In an interview with GMA News Online, Rolando Cruz, a long-time employee of Francisco Motors Corporation (FMC)—a now-defunct manufacturer of Philippine jeepneys that custom-built the Popemobile—shared that careful considerations were put in place to ensure the Pope's safety while inside the vehicle.
Fully protected vehicle
"The chassis of the Popemobile is made of very thick steel made to withstand most gunshots from a variety of arms," Cruz said in Filipino.
The Anfra chassis of the Popemobile runs on a Mazda 250-horsepower engine, capable of accelerating up to 80 kph.
The enclosure which sheltered the Pope, he added, is fitted with four-inch thick laminated glass, also designed to be heavily bullet-proof.
The windshield of the AUV chassis, as well as its side windows, were likewise decked with the same glass material.
It was armored then by CTK, Inc., a local producer of armored vehicles, whose clientele also included Microsoft founding chairman Bill Gates, during his visit to the country in 1998.
Cruz said the six-wheeler vehicle underwent rigorous testing under FMC to ensure its reliability, while reports say it was inspected by the Swiss Guards—the Vatican's traditional security personnel—without a hitch.
The thick, protective glass pane has since been retired after the Pope's Manila visit, and is no longer installed in the vehicle, Cruz added.
Following John Paul II's death in 2005—and his eventual beatification—the white Popemobile has garnered a near-sacred status, revered by many Catholics as a lasting symbol and reminder of the late Pope.
Cruz, for one, said he is deeply honored to be driving around the vehicle which used to carry the Holy See.
Prior to its tour around the country, Cruz said the Popemobile has been borrowed many times by local churches around the Philippines.
"They use it for their processions, or when visitors and bishops from the Vatican come for a visit," he added.
It had also been driven around the Black Nazarene Church in Quiapo, Manila, at the time of the Pope's death, giving Filipinos an instant connection to the Vatican and a venue to express their grief and prayers.
On May 1, John Paul II—originally Karol Wojtyla of Poland—will be beatified in Vatican, following the approval of a miracle attributed to him two months after his death.
Religious figures of the Catholic Church normally undergo beatification before being canonized as saints, traditionally a far longer process.
Following his beatification, he will then be known as Blessed John Paul II. Other famous "blessed" include Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, and Philippines' own Blessed Pedro Calungsod. —KBK/TJD/HS, GMA News