The Popemobile is perhaps the world’s most recognizable vehicle, with its bulletproof glass enclosure extending up from the back of the car and providing a look-don’t-touch quality to any papal visit. The auto touring the U.S. was a modified Mercedes-Benz, though previous incarnations have included Fiats, GMC Sierras, limos and Range Rovers.
Most offer protective glass as a result of the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, though the windows in the new version can be rolled down at the pontiff’s convenience. This Mercedes Holy See-class has no iPod adapter, but it does sport a tape deck and sound system, should the shouts of the adoring onlookers prove monotonous.
We should all be pleased, of course, that this magnificent machine affords the Holy Father a measure of protection in his worldly travels. Sitting on white leather, the Pope can now touch the lives of millions who cannot make the pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.
We should all be pleased, of course, at our foresight in defending against the lurking evils of the world, allowing the pontiff to move onward in his mission, cruising along at eight miles per hour. Benedict, clad in a white cape and packaged in his clear protective shell, is the veritable action figure of the Catholic Church.
But where is my Popemobile? Where is yours? Collectively as a fractious world and individually as nations, states, cities and citizens, we have met the violence of our small sphere with bulletproof glass, riot fences and bomb-proof cars.
While we reach out, we armor up. We refuse to temper our ideology, refuse any compromise of our values and insist that Right and Wrong define all outcomes, arguments and values.
There is Us and Them, and the more we encounter Them, the closer we hold to our ways, tightening the noose and strangling any chance for dialogue. President Bush, on the South Lawn of the White House last week, praised the Pope and called on all present to believe in Right and the Wrong, rejecting what he called the “dictatorship of relativism.”
I certainly do not speak exclusively or even necessarily about the Pope or the Catholic Church, but his fine car does symbolize so precisely the defensiveness and fear that abounds. Just as President Bush might visit Africa with a full security detail to decry Evil and Terror, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may come to New York with his entourage to praise nuclear development and decry Evil and Imperialism, no one can maintain a dictatorship over subjective qualities of right and wrong.
To believe otherwise is dangerous and narrow. In our small world with its infinite complexity, those unwilling to compromise and see the shades of existence find themselves alone in the back of special cars, creeping along the road behind bulletproof windows that can roll down, but rarely do.