Francis ditches popemobile for rickshaw in Bangladesh


Dhaka (AFP)

Pope Francis ditched his trademark popemobile to ride on a traditional cycle rickshaw as he kept up his man-of-the-people reputation during a visit to the Bangladeshi capital on Friday.

The Catholic leader grinned broadly as he was ferried through the gardens of the archbishop's house in the conspicuously new-looking rickshaw.

Bangladesh is famous for its cycle rickshaws, which were traditionally the most popular form of transport and are usually as dilapidated as they are brightly coloured.

The model used by the 80-year-old Argentine pontiff was brand new and appeared to have been fitted with extra guardrails for his safety.

Pope Francis has established a reputation for his down-to-earth manner, vowing to stamp out extravagance among the clergy and bring the Catholic Church closer to the poor.

Earlier he greeted crowds of Bangladeshi Catholics gathered in a vast park in central Dhaka from his popemobile before leading a mass.

The last pope to visit Bangladesh, John Paul II, also rode in a rickshaw that was pulled by a Catholic priest.

After his ride Pope Francis blessed rickshaw-puller Sagar Corraya and gave him a set of rosary beads, used for Catholic prayers.

"He patted my shoulder and said thank you very much. As I was going after the ride, he called me and gave me a gift. It was rosary beads," Corraya told AFP.

"I am so excited and I can?t express how happy I am."