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Woman knocks down Pope Benedict XVI at Christmas Mass

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. Benedettini said the woman who pushed the pope appeared to be mentally unstable and was arrested by Vatican police. He said she also knocked down Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was taken to hospital for a check up.

After the incident, Benedict, flanked by bodyguards, resumed his walk to the basilica's main altar to start the Mass. He appeared somewhat shaken and leaned heavily on aides and an armrest as he sat down in his chair.

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 by security.

Woman knocks down Pope Benedict XVI at Christmas Mass 12/24/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 8:35pm]
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