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.”