Pope fine after Christmas Eve knock-down

Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Basilica after being knocked down. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict appeared to suffer no ill effects after he was knocked to the marble floor of St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve by a woman the Vatican described as “unbalanced.”

French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, was less fortunate. He suffered a broken hip and was spending Christmas in Rome’s Gemelli hospital.

The pope looked and sounded fine as he delivered his Christmas Day message and blessing from the central loggia of St. Peter’s, expressing Christmas greetings in more than 60 languages.

The day before, as the pope processed into the basilica at the start of the 10 p.m. liturgy, a woman wearing a red sweatshirt jumped the security barrier and knocked the 82-year-old pontiff to the ground. Amateur videos showed Vatican security guards trying to stop the woman, but she succeeded in pulling on the pope’s vestments, causing him to lose his balance and tumble. The woman was immediately swarmed by papal guards, and the pope was on his feet in a matter of seconds.

Vatican sources confirmed that the woman was the same person who attempted to rush the pope at Midnight Mass last year, but was tackled by guards before she could reach the pontiff.

Here is an amateur video of what happened last night:

The Vatican’s chief spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, issued this statement today:

Yesterday evening during the entrance procession of the celebration of Mass, an unbalanced person, Susanna Maiolo, 25, who has Italian and Swiss citizenship, went over the barrier and despite the intervention of security people was able to reach the Holy Father and grab his pallium, causing him to lose his balance, slip and fall. The pope was able to quickly get up and resume walking, and the entire celebration was carried out without any other problem.

Unfortunately, in the confusion that was created Cardinal Etchegaray fell and fractured his hip. He was taken to the Gemelli Polyclinic, and his condition is good, but he will have to undergo an operation in coming days.

Maiolo, who was not armed but who manifested signs of psychic imbalance, was taken to a health care facility for obligatory treatment.

As for the Holy Father, today’s program is confirmed without any modifications.

Among the estimated 7,000 people in the basilica, only those immediately close to the pontiff knew what was happening. But the entire congregation was alarmed when screams rang out, the entrance procession stopped and security personnel began running toward the pope.

Paul Haring, the CNS photographer on the scene, spoke after the Mass with two eyewitnesses to the incident.

Gregory Contreras, 20, from Winter, Calif., said he was five or six feet away when the pope passed. “I saw a young lady jump over the barrier, security grabbed her and then the pope and she fell down. It was a big pile.” He lost sight of the pope when security guards surrounded him. When the pope arose, people cheered and some yelled “Viva il papa!”

Preston Sprimont, 19, from Foothill Ranch, Calif., also witnessed the incident from the same location and said, “She had her hand on his collar, both hands it looked like.”

20 Responses

  1. I am sure Catholics and non Catholics throughout the world join me in giving thanks to God for the quick recovery of our Holy Father from the incident in St Peters last evening. We also pray for Cardinal Etchegary that he will soon heal from his injuries. The young woman involved also needs our prayers for healing from her instability. We have a Pope of great spiritual magnitude and humility…long may he be with us in these precious hours of need. God bless and protect you always Pope Benedict XVI.

  2. Since we pray for the Pope at each Mass, he is constantly under protection that the security in the Vatican missed. I admire his strength and poise.

  3. The Pope, the Cardinal and That Lady are in My Prayers. I ask St Peter to Pray for the Pope, St Luke to Pray for the Cardinal & his Doctors, and I ask St Dymphna to Pray for that Lady’s Healing, and Detainment.

  4. We are extremly sorry to hear the incident that took place in Vatican on the eve of christmas. We as a congregation pray defintely for the pontiff daily and offer decades of rosary for His intention that God may protect him from all evil. May he be strengthened by Mother Mary and all the angels to continue his mission with vigour and vitality. We earnestly pray for him to have courage to look after his flock in infailing faith and love. Please wish pontiff on our behalf

  5. We must always continue to pray for the intentions of our Holy Father and Supreme Pontiff as I am sure he is doing all that he can to restore the faith of all Catholics and restore the authority of the Catholic Church througout the world.

    Long Live Christ the King!
    Long Live the Blessed Virgin Mary!
    Long Live The Catholic Church!
    Long Live the Pope!

  6. As a resident of Bavaria. I feel especially close to this Pope.
    Best wishes to the Holy Father and to the young lady who needs healing.

  7. very unfortunate that this happened on the Christmas day. May long live the Pope. And pray for Cardinal who injured himself we pray that he may recover soon.

  8. Deeply relieved that the Holy Father was not hurt, but saddened that such an act took place on what was the holiest night of the Church’s year. Although I was not alive in 1981, it first brought back memories of the attempt on John Paul the Great.

    My thoughts and prayers are with the Holy Father, and too for that woman who is clearly in need of whatever help that is available.

    I was also upset to see that Cardinal Etchegaray, who is such a decent and humble priest, suffered injuries and I wish him the best with his operation and will keep him in my prayers.

    May our Holy Father reign for many more years!

  9. Thanks be to God
    Our prayers for this woman and the Cardinal injured

  10. Of course I’m praying for the Holy Father, he is such a gift to us and to the Church. Card Etchegaray – at 87, a broken hip is serious. May God grant him a full recovery. Attempting to walk after hip surgery is not easy and for a time, quite painful. I pray t hat Venerable John Paul II looks down from the window of heaven and offers intercession for his healing.

    As for that woman … how is it she could have gotten into the Basilica AGAIN?! How about some prayers for the Holy Father’s security personnel? Everyone has to go through security checks … surely her photo should have been posted at the security checkpoint?

  11. The incident reminds us all the need to pray more for our Church and Pope….no security, however advanced, can safeguard the Church…….only our prayers can be foolproof….this is the message God gives us this Christmas…..pray more for our Church…..

  12. This, and the burning of Longford Cathedral in Ireland, are ominous signs.

  13. Thanks be to God! I pray for the Pope everyday, and for all his coworkers in the Lord’s vineyard and will continue to do so. May the cardinal and the woman be healed.
    Pope Benedict is such a serene and humble person, despite his extraordinary gifts. I love and admire him very much. May the Lord bless his papacy and mission for many, many years to come

  14. “Knock-down?” How about “assault,” or at least “attack?”

  15. i think it is more like an attack.. and not a know-down but ok then..

  16. The Pope needs our prayers,,, it’s not an easy responsibility to lead the Catholic Church. May the Lord grant healing to the lady.

  17. were thanks God for this great thing of rescuing our pope long live christ,long live church,long live pope

  18. My prayers are with the Holy Father, Cardinal Etchegary and the women in the red sweater. May she find peace and God’s love as she goes through the rest of her life. Thank you Pope Benedict for your leadership in faith and for bringing us all closer to God’s word.

  19. My prayers are also with Cardinal Etchegaray and of course with the Holy Father as well… probably Italy has similar laws concerning the mentally ill to those in the U.S., in that many who years ago would have been institutionalized for their own and others’ protection are free to walk the streets.

    I know the Vatican has tried to avoid instituting comprehensive security measures which will cause even larger bottlenecks for tourists and pilgrims trying to visit the Vatican, but I don’t see any other way. It’s time to buckle down and screen everyone more thoroughly, as distasteful and cumbersome as that may be.

  20. Someone above also mentioned the burning of Longford Cathedral (St. Mel’s) on Christmas Day… here is a link to the Irish Times story covering the fire. I sincerely hope Catholics around the world can help to restore this architectural and spiritual treasure…. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0104/1224261595150.html

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