Can Brazil Keep the Holy Father Safe? (UPDATED: NO!)

OK, now I’m worried.

I did not see the parade which was broadcast live this afternoon, when Pope Francis’ motorcade rode through the streets of Rio de Janeiro; but I saw the concern for his safety which was evidenced on social media sites.

“Very poorly done,” said one person, speaking of the Pope’s compact Brazilian-made Fiat Idea wending its way along the crowded streets.  “That was exceedingly dangerous.”

And then, the already chaotic scene deteriorated, as the exuberant crowd pressed forward to touch the papal car.  Even the security guards, it seemed, threw up their hands and left the Holy Spirit in charge.  The Catholic Herald reported:

At some points, the motorcade was separated from ordinary rush-hour commuters by nothing more than a median strip.  As the Pope’s car drew closer to the centre, he passed increasingly large groups of people standing, cheering and waving.  About 20 minutes into the ride, clusters of people began pressing against the vehicle, reaching out to touch the Pope, and had to be pushed away by the security detail.  At one point the press of crowds brought the vehicle briefly to a standstill, and the Pope emerged to kiss a baby.

Apparently attempting to avoid the crowds, the motorcade turned into a stretch of ordinary traffic.  Shortly thereafter, the papal car found itself repeatedly stuck between vehicles and crowds. Security officers could be seen vigorously pushing back bystanders who reached out to touch the Pope.  The 13.2-mile ride took 44 minutes.

With Boylston Street and the Boston Marathon still fresh in the American consciousness, I found myself asking:  If only one of those thousands of well-wishers had not really wished him well, what would have happened to our new pope?

Father Marcio Sergio Queiroz, media coordinator for World Youth Day, brushed aside concerns—telling NBC News the pope never felt he was in danger.  “He is the people’s pope,” said Father Queiroz, “and he likes to be in direct touch with the people.  The warm welcoming was in line with the culture of Brazil.”

When it was over and the Pope’s safety seemed assured, I breathed a sigh of relief.

But not for long:  Then, I read the Telegraph’s report that while Pope Francis was meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in the Rio state governor’s palace, atheists and the Anonymous protest group had planned to demonstrate outside.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida

And then, there was this:  A “small, home-made bomb” was discovered during security checks at the National Shrine of Aparecida, which Pope Francis is scheduled to visit on Wednesday.

“Not to worry!” say the Brazilian police.   The bomb was a “home-made device” with little potential to cause fatalities; it was successfully detonated on Sunday, after the Brazilian air force discovered it during a security sweep; such episodes are a common part of security forces training in Aparecida; at no point were civilians’ lives in danger; and besides, the lavatory where the bomb was found was in an area of the shrine that would not be used during the papal visit.

Well, then!  I’m feeling better already (NOT).

I will be breathing a sigh of relief around 7:00 p.m. Sunday, when the Pope’s airplane is scheduled to depart from the Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport, heading for the relative quiet of Vatican City.

*     *     *     *

UPDATE:  I told you so!  Fox News’ Latino edition reports some serious concerns in the part of Rio’s police:

In his first international trip as pope, the pontiff has built much of his schedule in Brazil, the world’s biggest Catholic country, around high-profile events that send him straight into unpredictable, potentially chaotic environments — without the protection of the bulletproof popemobile used by his two predecessors.

On Thursday, the pope will visit a tiny chapel founded in 1971 in the Varginha slum, one of Rio’s more than 1,000 hillside shantytowns. Many such slums cower under the control of dangerous drug gangs or deadly militias made up mostly of former and current police and firefighters. Police invaded Varginha in January to clear out traffickers, but the gangs remain a shadowy presence there.

The next day, Francis will hit Copacabana beach to walk the Stations of the Cross among an expected 1 million young Catholics gathered for World Youth Day festivities. Vatican officials have said he’ll travel to the beach past thousands of devotees in an open-topped vehicle, a plan that would put the thousands of police and soldiers dispatched to protect the pope on high alert and require more plainclothes security.

Brazil’s justice and defense ministers, along with a top army commander, urged the pope to use an armored popemobile instead, but the Vatican has responded that Francis likes to jump in and out of his vehicle to greet the faithful, which wouldn’t be possible in the more protected vehicle.

“The bulletproofing would lessen our worries, it’d be better if he had it,” said Gen. Jose Abreu, the top officer overseeing the military’s role in the security scheme. “It’s a personal choice and we’ll respect it, but it’s not remotely pleasant for security forces.”

UPDATE 2:  And now, the firebombs.  And the Holy Father is forced into a helicopter to avoid protestors.

But don’t be nervous.  Father Federico Lombardi informs us, “We are not worried.”