Jeepney popemobile drives to history
MANILA, Philippines–Pope Francis will be riding the first jeepney converted into a popemobile, the unofficial designation for any motor vehicle used by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, during his visit to Manila.
When he does, the US military war horse ingenious Filipinos turned into a public transport vehicle will drive into automotive history.
The white popemobile is built on a brand-new jeepney chassis, converted to a secure platform to give the faithful a good view of the Pontiff. It is every inch a Philippine jeepney, from the long bumper with steel “bull bar” up front, to the stainless steel strips adorning the sides, to the checkered plate metal step at the rear.
The papal coat of arms adorns the hood, roof and sides and includes the emblem of the Society of Jesus, an eight-pointed star symbolizing the Virgin Mary, and a spikenard representing St. Joseph. On each of the jeepney’s flanks, is a glass cross, sculpted by renowned artist Ramon Orlina.
“It was meant to be, or maybe it was divine intervention,” said Orlina of the glass crosses. The sculptures were originally commissioned for a church, but a bishop nixed the project. Then he got a call from Edison Cham, CEO of ECTK, a company that builds armored vehicles. The glass crosses fit perfectly on the popemobile, an elegant touch that still manages to evoke the immense customization usually done on jeepneys.
Entrance is of course at the rear, with a folding rear step covered in red carpet unfurling down to the pavement. The passenger compartment is an airy three-seat space, with the papal seat front and center. At the sides are two auxiliary chairs for Archbishops Luis Cardinal Tagle and Socrates Villegas.
Each of the seats is equipped with a seatbelt, lest the vehicle be flagged down by diaper-wearing traffic constables from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. Interior surfaces are trimmed in white leather, including the side-grab bars and the roof liner.
There’s another concession to comfort: air conditioning.
Although the sides of the vehicle are open, cold air is blown out of a pair of vents flanking the papal seats. Electric fans, another common jeepney feature, help cool down the cabin. Mounted on the left side of the passenger compartment is a collection of rosaries from the Vatican.
Swiss guard is driver
Driving the vehicle will be a member of the Pope’s traveling entourage, presumably a Swiss guard. He will have to be capable of driving a stick shift, as the popemobile uses a trusty diesel engine, complete with authentic rumble, mated to a five-speed floor-mounted manual shift.
Pope Francis eschews luxury cars, challenging priests to think about the poor and needy when they consider riding such vehicles. As a cardinal and even as Pope, he has been known to take public transportation.
He will surely appreciate the charms of this custom-made jeepney, a popemobile that is truly Filipino.
Originally posted: 11:09 PM | Thursday, January 8th, 2015