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Europe

Pope ushers in Christmas amid security concerns

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-24

Pope Benedict XVI said his Midnight Mass on Friday amid heightened security fears a day after package bombings struck two embassies in Rome.

AP - Pope Benedict XVI ushered in Christmas with an evening Mass on Friday amid heightened security concerns following the package bombings at two Rome embassies and Christmas Eve security breaches at the Vatican the past two years running.

Benedict kicked off the holiday as night fell by silently lighting a candle in his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Heavy rains kept the traditionally large crowds to a minimum.

At 2100 GMT, Benedict celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. During that service in 2008 and 2009, a mentally disturbed woman lunged at the pope and last year managed to pull him to the ground as he processed down the aisle.

Security was vigilant as a result, and also due to Thursday’s package bombings at the Swiss and Chilean embassies, for which anarchists claimed responsibility. The two people who opened the envelopes were injured.

The bombings added to tensions in the capital following a violent, anti-government protest last week in the historic center and a fake bomb found Tuesday on a Rome subway.

All eyes Friday were expected to be on the crowds inside St. Peter’s _ particularly on anyone wearing a red hooded sweat shirt. For the past two years in a row during Christmas Eve Mass, a woman wearing a red sweat shirt has lunged at the pope as he walked down the main aisle.

The Vatican has identified her as Susanna Maiolo, a Swiss-Italian national with a history of psychiatric problems.

In 2008, the pope’s security detail blocked her from getting to him. But in 2009, she jumped the wooden security barrier along the aisle, grabbed Benedict’s vestments and pulled him to the ground when the pope’s bodyguards toppled her.

The pontiff wasn’t hurt and after a few seconds on the ground got up continued with the Mass. But Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a retired Vatican diplomat who was near the pope, suffered a broken hip in the fall.

Maiolo was treated for some time at a clinic in Rome, and Benedict’s personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, visited her there. Three weeks later, Maiolo and her family met privately with the pope at the Vatican and the pontiff forgave her.

The Vatican reviewed security procedures after the knockdown. But officials have long warned there will always be risks to the pontiff since he is regularly surrounded by tens of thousands of people for his weekly audiences, Masses, papal greetings and other events.

 

Date created : 2010-12-24

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