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Pope leaves Basilica of St. John Lateran after meeting with clergy from Diocese of Rome

Pope Francis leaving the Basilica of St. John Lateran after a meeting with clergy from the Diocese of Rome Sept. 16. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — There may be a slight change in protocol tomorrow when Pope Francis makes his first official state visit to Italy.

The traditional visit is held at the Quirinale the ornate Italian presidential palace in the heart of Rome that served for centuries as a papal residence until 1870, when the Papal States were overthrown and Italy was united.

Italian military police patrol around St. Peter's Square at Vatican

Members of the Carabinieri, the Italian military police force, patroling around St. Peter’s Square Feb. 21. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)

The formal encounter is marked by colorful ceremony, pomp and pageantry.

The pope is typically escorted by Italian security from the border between Vatican City and Italy.  A military band plays as the pope rides slowly in a motorcade through downtown Rome, past crowds of cheering Romans, his car flanked by a squad of helmeted carabinieri police on horseback and motorcycles. There’s a quick pit stop at city hall to greet the mayor before taking off again up the hill to the 16th-century (formerly papal, now presidential) palace to meet with the Italian president and other dignitaries.

POPE WALKS WITH ITALIAN PRESIDENT DURING OFFICIAL STATE VISIT

Pope Benedict XVI walking with Italian President Azeglio Ciampi during his first official state visit to the Quirinal Palace in Rome June 24, 2005. (CNS photo from L’Osservatore Romano)

Maybe to save money or to mirror Pope Francis’ more simple style, Italian officials said the motorcade will be significantly reduced tomorrow and the fancy plume-helmeted police will leave their horses back at the barracks. They also promised there would be some new features while still respecting the proper protocol for a visiting pope.

What’s interesting is the pope is the only head of state Italy still pulls out all the stops for.

POPE ARRIVES TO LEAD ANGELUS AT VATICAN

Italian flags fly during a Sunday Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square in Nov. 2011. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

When the fledgling republic was formed after 1946, Italy apparently drove every visiting head of state in a presidential vehicle, accompanied by police on horseback, for 12 miles from the airport to the Quirinale.

Over time the ceremonial motorcade was cut back to the last half-mile from Piazza Venezia, but even that got scrapped eventually because it caused (more than the usual) traffic snarls and irate commuters.

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