Pope Benedict XVI delivered his traditional Christmas Day blessing on Friday, looking tired and unsteady but otherwise fine hours after being knocked down by a woman who jumped the barrier at the start of Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Vatican said the 82-year-old Pontiff was unhurt in the fall and that his busy Christmas schedule would remain unchanged.
French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, an 87-year-old Vatican diplomat, fractured his hip in the commotion and will be operated upon at Rome’s Gemelli hospital, said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi.
The Pope appeared a bit unsteady as he approached his chair on the loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square to deliver his Christmas blessing and was steadied by an attendant.
But he then spread open his arms, blessed the crowd and delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” speech, Latin for “To the city and the world,” without any problem.
He followed with Christmas greetings in 65 languages that drew sustained cheers and chants from the crowd.
In the speech, he decried the effects of the world financial crisis, conflicts in the Holy Land and Africa, and the plight of the “tiny flock” of Christians in Iraq.
Rev. Lombardi identified the woman who toppled the Pope as Susanna Maiolo (25), a Swiss-Italian national with psychiatric problems. He said Ms. Maiolo, who was not armed, was taken to a clinic for necessary treatment.
She was the same woman involved in a similar incident at last year’s Midnight Mass, said Vatican officials. In that case, Ms. Maiolo jumped the barricade but never managed to reach the Pope and was quietly tackled by security.
In both cases she wore a red sweat shirt.
During Thursday night’s service, Ms. Maiolo jumped the barricade and lunged for the Pope as he processed down the aisle toward the altar.
As security guards brought her down, she grabbed the pontiff’s vestments and pulled him down with her, according to witness video obtained by The Associated Press.
After a few seconds on the floor, he stood up with the help of attendants, put back on his miter and took hold of his staff, and continued to process down the aisle to the cheers of “Viva il Papa!” (“Long live the Pope”.) He continued to celebrate the Mass without any incident.
It was the first time a potential attacker came into direct contact with Pope Benedict XVI during his nearly five-year papacy. Security analysts have frequently warned the Pope is too exposed in his public appearances.
After getting up, the Pope, flanked by tense bodyguards, reached the basilica’s main altar to start the Mass. The Pope, who broke his right wrist in a fall this summer, appeared unharmed but somewhat shaken and leaned heavily on aides and an armrest as he sat down in his chair.
Hope and joy
The Pope’s English greeting said: “May the birth of the Prince of Peace remind the world where its true happiness lies; and may your hearts be filled with hope and joy, for the Saviour has been born for us.”
He recalled how Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago represents “a special light” shining on the human family and the Church. The pontiff then placed the meaning of the Christmas event in a modern-day context.
Christmas represented a sign of hope for a “human family profoundly affected by a grave financial crisis, yet even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts”.
In Europe and North America, the Church “urges people to leave behind the selfish and technicist mentality,” he said.
Then, in a reference to the Catholic Church’s stance against abortion, he said the so-called advanced nations needed to show “respect for the persons who are most defenceless, starting with the unborn”.