Pope Francis’ New Wheels Cause a Stir in South Korea

Pope Francis' Visit, Seoul, South Korea, Image by Korea.net (uploaded and shared by Korea.net's Flickr channel) (CC BY SA 2.0)

Pope Francis’ Visit to Seoul, South Korea. Image by Korea.net (uploaded and shared by Korea.net's Flickr channel) (CC BY SA 2.0).

Pope Francis has concluded his inaugural visit to South Korea, where the Catholic leader's public appearance caused a media frenzy, thanks in part to scenes of the pontiff riding around in a compact car, instead of a bulletproof sedan.

Footage of the pope squeezed into a “Soul,” manufactured in Korea by Kia, aired live across the country, leading to wide speculation about how Francis chose that particular car. The local Catholic committee responsible for organizing the visit later explained that the pope specifically requested a locally made car—the smallest model available, if possible.

The guessing game about the pontiff's new wheels picked up speed online, where Koreans on Twitter wondered if Francis settled on the “Soul” because of its name, or perhaps because this particular model is commonly used to transport disabled persons. Some expressed concern that the pope wasn't adequately protecting himself in such an ordinary vehicle, but most Koreans writing in social media seemed to enjoy the automotive decision.

The reason the Pope is riding on Soul is because, in Italy, many people renovate that car for disabled people.

It really IS the Soul the pope is riding in. Although I can fully understand more why he choose that a compact car, at the sight my mind immediately turns to the security guards around him, who must be on the verge of a stroke at any minute.

The photo of pope inside the Soul made me laugh because it felt so out of place. A black sedan always reminds me of people in higher positions—the privileged, the people with money or power—and seeing pope not in one of those sedans looked so quaint.

Kia would probably like to send out a press releases boasting that the Kia Soul is chosen car of the pope. But they should realize the reason behind it: the pope only chose it because it's one of the most inexpensive cars, and he cares very much about the under-privileged.

What a scene—the Pope is riding in a Soul and his security people are following him in big sedans. This is something new for me. It looks so foreign and, at the same time, quite touching.

To stand at the same level as the pope, I am considering selling my current car and buying Soul.

While some people online did allege a lack of balanced news coverage about the papal visit, many others say the pope's rock-star popularity reflects the public's genuine thirst for leaders like Francis.

The reason why so many Koreans are so crazy about the pope is that he demonstrates how a true leader can achieve so many things and really influence people.

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