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2014-01-09 12:06

NICOLE WINFIELD

PAPAL HUG: Pope Francis goes driveabout in St Peter's Square, Rome, with (inset) his old friend Fabian Baez who happened to be in the crowd. Image: AP

VATICAN CITY, Italy - Pope Francis broke with papal protocol again on Wednesday (Jan 8 2014) by inviting an old friend for a spin in his panoramic white Popemobile during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

Fabian Baez, a parish priest in Francis' home town, Buenos Aires, didn't have a VIP ticket to get close to the altar or a spot where the pope would chat with well-wishers but as soon as Francis saw Baez in the crowd of several thousand he signaled for Vatican police to help Baez jump the barricade.

Francis then invited Baez to hop aboard his car and the parish priest accompanied Francis through the square as the pope waved to well-wishers and kissed babies.

WAY BACK WHEN...

He said later he was shocked by Francis' invitation: "I said to myself 'What am I doing here? Mamma mia!' The pope laughed and said 'Come, sit down, sit down!' And he continued to greet the people and kiss babies. I was very moved."

Baez said the two had known each other since the 1990's when Pope Francis was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of the Argentine capital.

Francis has added a little spontaneity to the Vatican's staid ways. He...

• Lives in the Vatican hotel, not the Apostolic Palace
• Eschewed the armoured popemobile for a simple Fiat during a trip to Brazil.
• Leaves the Vatican with a minimal security and no motorcade.
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