AP/ The Huffington Post | ARIEL DAVID| First Posted: 12-24-09 05:32 PM
VATICAN CITY – A woman jumped the barriers in St. Peter’s Basilica and knocked down Pope Benedict XVI as he walked down the main aisle to begin Christmas Eve Mass on Thursday.
The 82-year-old pope quickly got up and was unhurt, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini. Footage aired on Italy’s RAI state TV showed a woman dressed in a red jumper vaulting over the wooden barriers and rushing the pope before being swarmed by bodyguards.
The commotion occurred as the pope’s procession was making its way toward the main altar and shocked gasps rang out through the public that packed the basilica. The procession came to a halt and security rushed to the trouble spot.
Benedettini said the woman who pushed the pope appeared to be mentally unstable and had been arrested by Vatican police. He said she also knocked down Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was taken to hospital for a check up.
“During the procession an unstable person jumped a barrier and knocked down the Holy Father,” Benedettini told The Associated Press by telephone. “(The pope) quickly got up and continued the procession.”
After the incident, Benedict, flanked by tense bodyguards, resumed his walk to the basilica’s main altar to start the Mass. He did appear somewhat shaken and leaned heavily on aides and an armrest as he sat down in his chair.
Benedict made no reference to the incident as the service started. As a choir sang, he sprinkled incense on the altar before opening the Mass with the traditional wish for peace in Latin: “Pax vobis” (“Peace be with you”). The faithful responded: “Et cum spiritu tuo” (“And also with you”).
It was the second year in a row there was a security breach at the service. At the end of last year’s Mass a woman who had jumped the barriers got close to the pope but was quickly blocked on the ground by security.
Benedettini said it was not immediately known if the same woman was behind Thursday’s incident.
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