Pope takes classic Renault for spin, leaves security in the dust

UPDATE: Photos of the pope’s “new” car

VATICAN CITY — When an Italian priest handed Pope Francis the keys to his classic 30hp Renault 4, the pope got behind the wheel and took off, leaving security squirming behind, knowing full well this would be just the beginning of a pope truly on the move. Even though he shouldn’t be able to reach Ferrari-like speeds with a 300cc engine, it might be tough keeping up when he hits the hills.

“The security personnel next to me were very concerned because they understood that from now on he would be tooling around the Vatican in my car,” the car donor, 69-year-old Father Renzo Zocca, told the Italian Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana. But the priest told the police, not to worry, “I left some snow chains in the trunk. You never know!”

The new addition to the papal fleet — a silver-white four-door 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on the odometer — happened on Saturday, just a few hours before the Sept. 7 prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square for peace.

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In his July visit to Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis rode in a simple silver Fiat as seen in this photo. Now, the papal vehicle fleet includes a 1984 Renault — a gift from an Italian priest. (CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters).

The pope didn’t get his new wheels on eBay. Father Zocca said he wrote the pope, saying he wanted to meet him, donate his car, and tell him about his ministry: living and working for 25 years in a run-down, working-class neighborhood in Verona — the northern Italian city made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Instead of feuding family rivalries, however, Father Zocca had to face off violent drug pushers who were destroying young people’s lives and leaving the priest death threats. Not even getting stabbed would stop the priest, who said, “I wanted to embody the (Second Vatican) Council in that parish in the outskirts, which has been the center of my life.”

With both parents dead at 35 years old, Father Zocca raised his 14-year-old brother. He revitalized the community and built centers for the poor, disabled and the elderly. He and his brother lived in government housing, and with an apartment on the 9th-floor, “I would joke that I lived in the highest rectory in Italy.”

Then on August 10 at 10:19 a.m., Father Zocca got a call on his cell from the pope. Pope Francis had gotten the priest’s letter and they spent half an hour talking about the priest’s work “in the peripheries,” as the pope has repeatedly called today’s priests to go. Father Zocca reiterated his offer that he had this white Renault in the garage that had been his faithful companion for decades as he drove all over Verona and Italy for his ministry.

The pope was unsure, the priest said, and suggested the priest give it to the poor.

“I answered that this car had already given much to the poor and now it had to go to the pope.” He told the magazine that he wanted to give the pope something that was a testimony to his experience and ministry of going into the outskirts “and what a better gift than my Renault 4?” he said.

When the pope was sure Father Zocca had another car to use, the pope pulled out his appointment book, leafed through the pages and started listing the days and times he would be free in early September. With the appointment set for Sept. 7 at 3 p.m, Father Zocca had his mechanic, Stefano, give the car a tune-up, clean the spark plugs and put air in the tires. The car also runs on methane so “the Vatican won’t have to worry about high gas prices,” the priest said.

On Saturday, the car was loaded on a tow truck with the priest and about 100 townsfolk, including the mechanic, following along on a chartered bus to Rome.

They brought the car to the front of the pope’s residence at Domus Sanctae Marthae where the pope greeted the priest and gave him a big hug. Father Zocca told the pope that he felt bad half of their group was stuck outside the gates because of security concerns, so the pope told him, “Let’s go!”

They hopped in the car with the priest behind the wheel and the pope in the passenger side while the mechanic and the priest’s assistant got in the back. The mechanic warned Father Zocca to “Go slow! We’re in the Vatican” even though they were only going 18 mph.

The pope met the rest of the group and then they headed back inside the Vatican with the car. The pope said he had had a Renault 4 back in the day and that “it had never let him down.”

Before saying goodbye, the pope told Father Zocca, “‘Write me again.’ Then I gave him the keys and he got behind the wheel,” the priest said.

“I watched him drive off in that car as if it were the most normal thing in the world,” he said.

13 Responses

  1. This story should be spread far and wide. It shows us a new kind of pope, one who does not leave his common humanity behind and refuses to allow tradition and Vatican security to take his common humanity from him.

    It is stories like this one that can serve to bring people back into the Fold, people who have until now felt distanced from the papacy.

  2. This reminds me of a joke about the Pope telling his limo driver to change places with him so he can drive. Then the Pope is pulled over for speeding. The worried policeman calls his Captain and says, “We have a situation here.” After explaining he pulled over a very important vehicle the Captain tells him no matter who it is in the back, they get a ticket. Then the policeman, still uncomfortable, says, “You don’t understand, the Pope is the driver. . .”

  3. Beautiful. We need to remember that if we’re going to love him, we have to love ALL of him: His every day, common ways as well as his deeply convicting, challenging words for our lives. He definitely leads by example. It’s all or nothing. There’s no middle loving this man.

  4. Oh no, does the Pope have a driver’s license? He lamented about being caged in the Vatican – would he steal away occasionally now?

  5. By the way, that is a Brazil pic w/ the Fiat. Here’s one of Pope Francis’ new old ride: http://t.co/jx8sRKs1bY

  6. All that is truly wonderful, but why can’t we get cars that run on methane? ;-)

  7. El Papa ha dado muestras de ser humilde, humano, generoso. que Dios nos lo cuide y que siga siendo así. Que no se deje tentar por los poderes que tiene un Jefe de Estado, por los lujos, por la autoridad y las prerrogativas. QUE DIOS LO BENDIGA Y LO ILUMINE Y QUE SEPA RODEARSE DE PERSONAS QUE LO ASESOREN BIEN.

  8. Reblogged this on Keen for God and commented:
    This is a beautiful little story of Pope Francis and his love for his pastors and sheep.

  9. i felt vindicated…..as a priest for d past 30 years, i didn’t have a car…..

  10. I LOVE this priceless true story about one who totally BELONGS – Holy Father, keep it up!

  11. That is true servant ship, a true principle of serving others and a true example Jesus Christ’ teaching about serving others.

  12. A wonderful story that it just makes me like Papa Francis all the more. Walking with the Lord should be an adventure full of joy. Yes, we all know life is full of pain and disappointment but when one is lifted up after reading a wonderful story like this one, well, all glory and honor and love be to God our Father who has a wonderful sense of joy and of the funny to put his little son, Papa Francis in a little white Renault!

  13. I am really fascinated towards the WAY he has been so far, his maintenance of of the unbroken unity with God in Jesus and his constatant efforts to renunciate of every attempt to gain any advatage from this unity or being as Pope for himself, is a great motivation for me to admire again the poor man who lived once in Nazareth. But I am very angry and greately disturbed with 20th century religious situation and when don’t see any of this in today’s so called Christian leaders , the pertinent question runs around me of how do we really relate the Christ’s simplicity with that of today’s luxury life leaders enjoy today.

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