The current pontiff may have shunned the Vatican’s customized bullet-proof Mercedes for an old Renault 4, but journalists on the flight could hardly complain about their travel arrangements. As the pope was flying by helicopter from the Vatican to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport to catch his flight to Seoul, accompanying guests were being fast-tracked through security, en route to his Alitalia chartered plane on Wednesday afternoon. The plane itself is discreetly customized: only a small Vatican insignia on the front side near the cockpit and on passenger headrest covers hint at the divine cargo on board. Once the plane had reached altitude over the rolling hills of central Italy, Pope Francis wandered to the back of the aircraft and greeted journalists lined up in single file. Familiar faces paused, some whispering in the pontiff’s ear, while papal flight first-timers tried to resist requesting a ‘selfie’. Many succumbed to temptation. “Yes,” was the sole word I managed to extract from Pope Francis after telling him it was “a good thing he was making a first trip to Asia”. After the pope safely retired to his seat at the front, stewards began circulating up and down the aisles serving Italian sparkling wine and snacks of salsiccie – a delicious diced Italian sausage – and olives in little plastic cups. Dinner then quickly followed: fresh cannelloni with ricotta cheese and a rocket salad, followed by Italian prosciutto ham on top of cantaloupe melon, then a hearty beef stew. An unidentifiable Italian dessert was then served, so too an accompanying sweet dessert wine, tea, coffee and mountains of Ferrero Rocher. All in all, it was by no means the worst airline meal one is likely to encounter. But we are reminded that, once he is back on dry land, Pope Francis will continue to say no to luxury: to get around South Korea he has specified a Kia Soul, a snip at under $20,000 versus the $575,000 bullet-proof “Popemobile” preferred by predecessors.
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