When an Italian priest handed Pope Francis the keys to his classic Renault, the pope got behind the wheel and took off, leaving security squirming behind, reports the Catholic News Service.
“The security personnel next to me were very concerned because they understood that from now on he would be tooling around the Vatican in my car,” the car donor, 69-year-old Father Renzo Zocca, told the Italian Catholic magazine, Famiglia Cristiana. But the priest told the police, not to worry, “I left some snow chains in the trunk. You never know!”
The new addition to the papal fleet — a silver-white four-door 1984 Renault with 186,000 miles on the odometer — happened on Saturday, just a few hours before the September 7 prayer vigil for peace.
The pope didn’t get his new wheels on eBay. Father Zocca said he wrote the pope, saying he wanted to meet him, donate his car, and tell him about his ministry: living and working for 25 years in a run-down, working-class neighborhood in Verona — the northern Italian city made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Instead of feuding family rivalries, however, Father Zocca had to face off violent drug pushers who were destroying young people’s lives and leaving the priest death threats. Not even getting stabbed would stop the priest, who said, “I wanted to embody the (Second Vatican) Council in that parish in the outskirts, which has been the centre of my life.”
With both parents dead at 35 years old, Father Zocca raised his 14-year-old brother. He revitalized the community and built centers for the poor, disabled and the elderly. He and his brother lived in government housing, and with an apartment on the 9th-floor, “I would joke that I lived in the highest rectory in Italy.”
Then on August 10 at 10:19 a.m., Father Zocca got a call on his cell from the pope. Pope Francis had gotten the priest’s letter and they spent half an hour talking about the priest’s work “in the peripheries,” as the pope has repeatedly called today’s priests to go. Father Zocca reiterated his offer that he had this white Renault in the garage that had been his faithful companion for decades as he drove all over Verona and Italy for his ministry.