Philippines to secure Pope Francis in custom-built 'popemobile'

Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile after a papal mass for the beatification of Paul VI, who died in 1978, and the end of Vatican's synod on the family at St Peter's square on Oct 19, 2014 at the Vatican. The Philippines will custo
Pope Francis greets the crowd from the popemobile after a papal mass for the beatification of Paul VI, who died in 1978, and the end of Vatican's synod on the family at St Peter's square on Oct 19, 2014 at the Vatican. The Philippines will custom-build a "popemobile" for Pope Francis to travel in during his visit to the fervently Catholic nation in January, organisers said Thursday. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines will custom-build a "popemobile" for Pope Francis to travel in during his visit to the fervently Catholic nation in January, organisers said Thursday.

"He is our visitor and we can't let anything bad happen to him," the government's chief protocol officer Marciano Paynor said, adding however that there were "no specific threats".

Pope Francis, who has shunned the pomp of his predecessors, said earlier this year he prefers to use open-top cars rather than the Vatican's bulletproof "popemobile" used by previous pontiffs, which he called a "sardine can".

"It is true something could happen to me but let's be realistic, at my age I do not have much to lose," he said in June, adding that the "popemobile" made it hard to connect with the faithful.

Paynor declined to give the specifications of the vehicle to be used in the Philippines for security reasons, but said the pope might opt for an open car for some appearances.

A total of six million people are expected to turn up when the Pontiff hears mass in the city of Tacloban, ravaged by last year's Super Typhoon Haiyan, on Jan 17 and in Manila's main outdoor park the following day, he said.

"The Pope requested that it be kept simple. He wants nothing flamboyant," said Father Antonio Pascual from the organising committee.

The "popemobile" was being designed in coordination with Vatican security, said presidential communications undersecretary Jess Yu, another member of the organising committee.

"Definitely, the Pope will be visible to the public (from the vehicle)," Yu said.

In August, comments by the preparatory committee sparked speculation that the pope could be transported in a jeepney - a common form of cheap public transport, often decorated with colourful religious artwork, evolved from the jeep.

However officials would not confirm the speculation Thursday.

The last pope to visit the Philippines, John Paul II, rode a white "popemobile" in 1995, where he waved to crowds from a glass, bulletproof cage at the back of the vehicle. Authorities later uncovered an alleged plot by Al-Qaeda to assassinate John Paul while he was in Manila.

The bulletproof "popemobile" was first introduced after the attempted assassination of John Paul in 1981.

Two flower-bearing orphans will welcome Francis when he arrives at Manila airport from Colombo at dusk on Jan 15, organisers said.

Pope Francis will then spend the entire day on Jan 17 hearing mass and comforting victims of Haiyan in Tacloban and Palo town.

Haiyan, the strongest storm to hit land, left over 7,300 people dead or missing in November last year after it triggered tsunami-like storm surges that wiped out entire towns.

One year after the disaster, survivors are mired in deeper poverty as they struggle to rebuild their lives.