Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Pope's common touch a security conundrum

19 March 2013, 11:30

Vatican City – Pope Francis will set an enormous early test for his security detail on Tuesday when tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected to pack the famous square for his inaugural mass - and he plans to weave his way among them for at least a quarter of an hour.

From the very start of his papacy, the first Latin American pontiff has exhibited a common touch and served notice that he will not tolerate life in a security bubble cut off from ordinary people.

Finding himself near a Vatican exit and hearing people chanting his name outside, during one of his first days in office, Francis responded with an impromptu walkabout that looks set to become a frequent occurrence.

The new pope spent several minutes shaking hands and cuddling children, apparently taking as much time as he wanted, as security officials and Swiss Guards looked on nervously.

"Security detail in fibrillation, faithful delirious" is how the Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano described the scene.

The papal bodyguards had better get used to it.

Respect for personal style

Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said security measures cannot be imposed on the pope.

"If the pope says, 'I want to go greet these people', the pope goes ahead, and the security people go along," Lombardi said, adding that the bodyguards would have to "show flexibility".

"This is something brand new" compared with the behaviour of Francis's shy, reserved predecessor Benedict XVI, Lombardi said.

"You have to respect the pope's personal style," Lombardi said. "The security officials are aware that it is not they who are running the show but the pope, and they have to adjust to that."

Responsibility for papal security is shared by about 100 Swiss Guards - the traditional papal security coterie - plus about 100 Vatican police and another 140 Italian police who maintain a round-the-clock patrol at the edges of the tiny city state.

Regardless of their charge's personal style, security personnel must always seek a balance between access and protection.

Assassination attempt

Popes, at least in the modern age, have always been vulnerable at key moments when they minister to the faithful - notably when a general audience or a mass is held in St Peter's Square or in the vast basilica.

It was here that a right-wing Turkish extremist, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot John Paul II at close range in 1981, an assassination attempt that remains seared in the collective memory.

Like Francis, John Paul II also craved contact with the people, Lombardi noted.

"Everyone remembers how many times John Paul II broke the rules in order to meet people directly, even in situations that could be risky or unpredictable," Lombardi said. "That was his style. He wanted to do that and had to be able to do that. Those in charge of security did the best they could."

The attack prompted the addition of armoured plating and bulletproof glass to the iconic popemobile, and pilgrims wanting to attend the weekly general audience have had to pass through metal detectors ever since.

Lesser breaches have also led to new layers of security.

Benedict tackle

In June 2007 papal bodyguards had to overcome an apparently deranged German man who jumped a barricade and tried to board Benedict XVI's white jeep, also in St Peter's Square.

Security officers immediately wrestled the man to the ground.

Two years later, before the start of Christmas midnight mass in St Peter's Basilica, a mentally unstable Swiss-Italian woman tackled Benedict, causing him to fall on the floor, though he quickly recovered.

On similar occasions following that incident, several more security agents could be seen flanking the pope along his path - widened to add more distance between him and the congregation.

"Security officials are at the service of the pope," Lombardi said, adding that they will have to adapt "to the pastoral style that the pope uses".

But they like to err on the side of caution when they can.

On Tuesday for Francis's inaugural mass, at least 3 000 security personnel will be deployed including sharpshooters.

Hundreds of plainclothes officers are to be scattered within the expected crowd of a few hundred thousand people, filling St Peter's Square as well as the main artery leading up to it.



Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...