Protecting Pope Francis: One of the most challenging jobs in the world.



Faint of Heart Need Not Apply: On Pope Francis' Secret Service (Corriere Della Sera, Italy)


"Pope Francis wanted to make a stop in Kurdistan, an area bordered by Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. He intended to issue an appeal from there on behalf of Middle East Christians being massacred by Islamic fundamentalists. The secret service stopped him. … He's not a very 'manageable' pope. ... It seems that even his entourage jokes with him about death threats. 'Holy Father, haven't they killed you yet today?' - they ask him, overcoming their reverence to express really acute fears. ... Argentine priest Juan Carlos Molina told him, 'Watch out, they could kill you.' … Francis replied: 'That would be the best thing that could happen to me. They could also kill you.' These weren't words of resignation. He seemed to be saying, simply put, that one must be prepared - even for martyrdom."


By Massimo Franco



Translated By Martyn Fogg


September 23, 2015


Italy - Corriere Della Sera - Original Article (Italian)

This column, which we posted last November, is being reposted on the occassion of Pope Francis' first visit to the United States, where one of the most costly and extensive security operations in history is being mounted to protect him.


In August 2014 while returning from his trip to South Korea, Pope Francis wanted to make a stop in Kurdistan, an area bordered by Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. He intended to issue an appeal from there on behalf of Middle East Christians being massacred by Islamic fundamentalists. The secret service stopped him, recounting for him the dangers that his program change represented. The episode resurfaced this autumn, as fears for his safety have imperceptibly come to a head. Perhaps it's just a reflection of the West's psychological and geopolitical disorientation. Is it the videos of hostages beheaded by the butchers of ISIS - the acronym for "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" - which is now outpacing al-Qaeda in its cruelty; and in addition to proselytizing in Europe, fuels fears of an attack on a pontiff that has united in prayer Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Orthodox Christians?


To the specter of subversive action by Islamic fundamentalists is added the ghosts of the attack by Turk Ali Agca on Pope John Paul II in May 1981 among crowds right in the middle of St. Peter's Square. Doubts about whether something like that could happen again have hung in the air since the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio became pope. His decision to live in Casa Santa Marta, highly symbolic, creates uncertainty. It is a hotel, albeit a unique one, inasmuch as, it must be noted, it receives deliveries of pasta, bread, meat, etc. from outside. It is a small place, where under heavy surveillance people always come and go, separated from Italy only by the walls that open onto the Via di Porta Cavalleggeri. And so, in theory, the danger is heightened. Add to that the audiences in which the pope seeks to meet and spend time with as many people as possible.


Armored cars and plain-clothed agents


In short, some cause for concern is justified, because above all, Pope Francis lives with a touch of impatience over security measures. The Vatican police know something about this, since they initially struggled to persuade the first Argentine pontiff to accept a minimum of preventive protection.


"Would you like to climb into an armored car?!" This is how they say he responded to their first routine offer of protection. During his visit to the Parish of the Immaculate Conception on the outskirts of Rome in December 2013, he said from the pulpit: "If you think there is something disturbing about this visit, it is perhaps the excessive security; please know that I do not agree with it … I agree with you." And when a few months later he decided to visit a Protestant friend at Caserta, a town in Campania [a district south of Rome, of which Naples is the capital] it wasn't easy to get him to understand that using a car instead of a helicopter would entail major problems: a congested motorway, a police escort and road blocks. In the end he took a small helicopter.


He's not a very "manageable" pope, although he has become accustomed to living with the imperatives of protection, and to accepting them. It seems that even his entourage jokes with him at times about death threats.

Posted By Worldmeets.US


"Holy Father, haven't they killed you yet today?" - they ask him, overcoming their reverence to express really acute fears. "Jorge, are they protecting you enough?" his Argentine compatriots shout to him during audiences, under the restless gaze of undercover agents with earphones strategically placed at a distance around him - even in the churchyard of St. Peter's Square. The pope has imposed a model of religiousity that means pulverizing all barriers between the "pope-king" and his subjects: a style that has made him a legend to the crowds, and a potentially an "easy" terrorist target.


The black flag over the obelisk


On the other hand, Dabiq, ISIS' online magazine [below], disseminated starting this July in various languages in Europe, put a photomontage on its digital cover in October 2014. It shows a picture of St. Peter's Square with the obelisk topped by its black flag under the title: The Failed Crusade. ISIS promises not to stop its jihad, the holy war of Islam, "until we are under the olive trees of Rome, after we destroy the filthy house called the White House." The name of the magazine is highly symbolic. Dabiq is the Syrian village where in 1516 the Ottomans defeated the Mamluks, ending history's last caliphate - and its threats are taken seriously.

Clarion Project, U.S.

[Click Here to Visit Clarion Project]


At Western embassies in Rome there is a certain anxiety. Among diplomats there are exchanges of impressions that give substance to the darkest scenarios. But the Italian and Vatican secret services appear more cautious. Analyzing Dabiq magazine, the feeling in the intelligence services is that with its pronouncements, ISIS is talking firstly to the communicating within the Muslim world, to impose Sunni supremacy over the hated Shiites and gain recognition as the only serious enemy of the West. But there are no clues of sensational attacks being prepared on the part of the terrorist group. The only fear is that some European affiliate by way of imitation is preparing a do-it-yourself action: perhaps using a drone flying above St. Peter's Square during a papal audience. "For now" they explain, "the risk is not of a major attack, but of atomized subversion."


The ties to Santa Marta


This is similar to information circulating in anti-terrorism study centers from Washington to London. We examined documents and reports discussing threats to the pope. But they are still not considered serious enough to validate the thesis of a sophisticated plan being incubated or a concrete threat. The feeling of analysts is that for now, the focus of ISIS is on assassinations in Mesopotamia, and doesn’t extend beyond its religious and geographical boundaries - even if it exhorts its followers in Europe to strike, and the number of English and French terrorists "recruited" by the organization brings shivers. But the pontiff continues with his life as usual. One of the things that people who work with him point out is that he wants to be master of his own life and agenda, and is jealous of his freedom.



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American Cardinal Timothy Dolan once explained in an interview that Francis will have to get used to the restrictions necessary to ensure his personal safety just as he had resigned himself when he was president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. But it isn't clear how much the pope has really adapted to all this. An Italian cardinal who is very familiar with Casa Santa Marta has for some time argued that sooner or later, something is likely to happen to encourage the pope to move into the papal apartments in the Vatican Palace - those occupied by his predecessors which are empty today as they are identified with intrigue, scandal and "Vatileaks": the theft of confidential documents from Benedict XVI, carried out by his butler. But Francis doesn't appear either perturbed or frightened by what is happening. He is disturbed by the persecutions and massacres of Middle East Christians, and never ceases to remember the victims of terrorism. He has just condemned the latest attack on a Jerusalem synagogue. But he isn't concerned about the risks he runs personally, nor does he intend to change his residence or habits.


The newspaper La Nación of Buenos Aires reported that Juàn Carlos Molina, an Argentine priest who is part of an organization battling drug trafficking, El Sedronar, had a 40-minute conversation with the pope on November 12. They sipped hot tea together from a single straw - a typical Argentine custom, and Molina recounted having told the pope, speaking informally as friends like many priests do who have known him since he was archbishop of Buenos Aires: "Watch out, they could kill you." Francis replied: "That would be the best thing that could happen to me. They could also kill you." These weren't words of resignation. He seemed to be saying, simply put, that one must be prepared - even for martyrdom.




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Posted By Worldmeets.US September 23, 2015, 10:27am


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