Pope Francis concluded his inaugural visit to South Korea on Monday, ending a five-day trip in which the Catholic leader's public appearances caused a media frenzy. That was thanks in part to images of the pontiff riding around in a compact Korean-made car instead of a bulletproof sedan.
Footage of the pope squeezed into a Soul, manufactured in Korea by Kia, aired live across the country. The video prompted speculation about how Francis chose that particular car.
The guessing game about the pontiff's new wheels picked up speed online, with Koreans on Twitter making humorous connections to explain the choice. Some wondered if Francis settled on the Soul because of its spiritual name. Others thought he might have chose that particular model because it's commonly used to transport disabled persons, riffing on the Pope's oft-noted care for the sick.
Some Koreans also worried that the pope wasn't adequately protecting himself in such an ordinary vehicle, but most people still seemed to enjoy his decision to pick out a local car.
교황이 소울을 타는 이유는 이탈리아에선 소울을 장애인용 차량으로 개조해서 많이들 타고다니기 때문이라함...ㅡ_ㅡb— S2ong Jin (@Seongjinworld) August 14, 2014
The reason the Pope is riding on Soul is because, in Italy, many people renovate that car for disabled people.
교황님 차 소울이네 진짜로;;;; 어떤 마음으로 경차 타신다고 한건지는 충분히 이해하지만 나는 저런 장면을 보면 심장떨릴 경호팀이 먼저 떠오르는 것이다......— Julie (@jiyooong) August 14, 2014
It really IS the Soul the pope is riding in. Although I can fully understand more why he choose a compact car, at the sight of it my mind immediately turns to the security guards around him who must be on the verge of a stroke at any minute.
교황이 소울에 탄 사진이 어색하다고 느끼며 윳었다. 높은 자리, 명예를 가진 사람, 부자, 권력가, 이른바 높으신 분들은 검은색 세단을 항상 연상시키는데 교황이 그걸 타지 않으니 어색하게 느껴졌다— hoon chang (@medok83) August 14, 2014
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.
기아차가 교황님이 타시는 차가 쏘울이라며 보도자료를 엄청 보내는 모양인데, 교황님이 낮은자를 굽이 살피어서 가장 싼 자동차를 타신거지 말입니다.....— 물도마뱀 (@rumblepad) August 15, 2014
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 underprivileged.
교황님은 쏘울 타고 가시고, 그 뒤에 커다란 세단을 타고 가는 경호원들...이제까지 본 적 없어 묘하고, 한편으로는 조금 감동적인 광경이다.— 연연 (@sadlyamoral) August 14, 2014
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.
교황과 동급이 되기 위하여 지금 차 팔고 소울을 사야겠다.— 여울탄 (@kasarkim) August 15, 2014
To stand at the same level as the pope, I am considering selling my current car and buying Soul.
Some Koreans did allege that news coverage of the papal visit wasn't balanced, but many others say the pope's rock-star popularity reflects the public's genuine thirst for leaders like Francis.
한국사람들이 교황에 열광하는 이유....한 명의 제대로된 지도자가 얼마나 많은 일을 하고, 영향을 줄 수 있는지는 제대로 보여주고 있다.— Teresia.W (@dpondd) August 17, 2014
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.
And as for the car, the truth was pretty simple in the end: 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.