Pope shuns presidential escort for state visit

By Nicole Winfield

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Nov. 14 2013 7:21 a.m. MST

Pope Francis blesses the faithful aboard of a car as he leaves the Quirinale, Presidential palace after meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, in Rome, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013. The Pope traveled across town for his first state visit with the Italian president, a traditionally pomp-filled ceremony that the simple pontiff defused by declining a mounted presidential guard escort and traveling in his own Ford Focus instead.

Gregorio Borgia, Associated Press

ROME — Pope Francis shunned a presidential guard escort for his first state visit to the Italian president Thursday in yet another breach of protocol and security, even though some people have expressed concerns for his safety as he ramps up his reform of the Vatican.

Francis' simple blue Ford Focus and the small Vatican motorcade pulled up quietly to the Quirinale Palace without the blaring of sirens that typically accompanies politicians and foreign dignitaries cruising through central Rome.

Once inside the onetime summer residence of popes, Francis walked slowly with President Giorgio Napolitano past the honor guard and then greeted staff members and their children, further evidence of a more casual approach to official duties by the Argentine "slum pope."

Francis' shunning of the trappings of the papacy — including its security apparatus — has defined his papacy so far. But his desire to be close to his flock and his aim to curb corruption and waste in the Vatican have raised fresh security fears, beyond the occasional mobbing of his open car by overly enthusiastic pilgrims.

A leading anti-Mafia prosecutor, Nicola Gratteri, this week raised the alarm that Francis' financial house-cleaning might make him a target for Italy's mob, though he provided no evidence that such a threat existed or that the mob was planning a hit.

Just last week, Francis denounced parents who feed their children the "unclean bread" earned through bribes and corruption, saying dishonest work deprives parents and their children of dignity.

Gratteri's comments, in an interview with the Il Fatto Quotidiano daily, came in relation to his new book "Holy Water" which details the unholy alliance between the Italian Catholic Church and the 'ndrangheta organized crime group in southern Calabria.

In the interview, Gratteri said Francis was moving in the right direction by "breaking down the center of economic power in the Vatican."

"Those who have been nourished by the power and wealth that is directly derived from the church are nervous and agitated," Gratteri was quoted as saying. He said he didn't know if the Mafia could target the pope, "but certainly they're thinking about it. He could be a threat."

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the Holy See was not concerned.

"We are absolutely calm," he told The Associated Press. "Everything is going ahead normally and it seems there's no reason to fuel such alarmism."

Michele Barbero contributed.

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