Benedict XVI gets vamped-up Mercedes popemobile

Mercedes-Benz presented Pope Benedict XVI with a sleek, ecologically-friendly "popemobile" on Friday which has been vamped up with the latest gadgets for maximum comfort, the Vatican said.

The 85-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church was given two models of the new white Class M car -- which has bullet-proof windows and runs on unleaded petrol -- at a ceremony in the Vatican gardens.

Benedict will be taking one of them for a spin for the first time on Saturday, when he visits the square at the Spanish Steps in central Rome for a yearly ceremony celebrating the Immaculate Conception.

"It's a joy to be able to accompany Benedict XVI on his journeys. It's an important commitment which we carry out with passion," said Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG, the German company which produces the luxury Mercedes-Benz brand.

Popes have been using Mercedes cars for over 80 years, he said.

The new model has been lowered by a few centimetres to make it easier to transport by plane when Benedict travels abroad. The air-conditioning and lighting have also been improved in a bid to help the head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics relax during long trips.

Mercedes has provided the special cars to successive popes since the 1980s, the high-sized, reinforced glass design allowing for maximum viewing with high levels of security.

The bullet-proof windows were added after Turkish assassin Mehmet Ali Agca shot and wounded pope Jean Paul II in 1981.

German-born Benedict is going to be pleased that the new model is ecologically-friendly.

Sometimes labelled "the green pope" in the Italian press, he has emphasised the defence of "God's works" and therefore the need to protect the environment.

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