A woman has thrown herself at Pope Benedict XVI and dragged him to the ground as he entered St Peter's Basilica to celebrate Christmas Eve mass.
Video footage showed the woman, wearing a red sweatshirt, leaping over a security barricade late Thursday and rushing at the 82-year-old pope as he began leading the traditional procession to the altar bearing a gold cross.
As a security guard tried to overpower her, the woman succeeded in grabbing Benedict's vestments near the neck and pulled him to the floor, according to the footage which showed several other people falling over in the melee.
The pope was unharmed and back on his feet within moments, and went on to celebrate the mass undaunted by the assault.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the woman, who he described as "unstable," lunged towards the 82-year-old pope as he was walking in a procession up the main aisle of St Peter's Basilica to start the mass.
She was the same person who tried to jump a barricade to get close to the pope at last year's Christmas Mass, Lombardi said.
As security men tried to tackle the woman, both the pope and French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray were knocked to the marble floor in the confusion, Lombardi said.
She was taken away by Vatican security. The pope was quickly helped to his feet and, apparently unharmed, continued walking up the main aisle to continue the service.
Etchegaray, 87, suffered a broken femur bone and was taken to hospital, Lombardi said.
Slow motion television footage showed a plastic chair flying into the air as bodyguards rushed around the pope and stopped the woman.
The woman was detained for questioning by Vatican security police, Lombardi said, adding that she was the same person who tried to jump a barrier at last year's Christmas Mass.
For the first time in recent memory, the mass started two hours before midnight in order to give the pope more time to rest before Friday's main Christmas event at noon (1100 GMT)
Last Mod: 25 Aralık 2009, 11:47
Benedict, leading the fifth Christmas season of his pontificate, on Friday delivers his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" message to the city and the world from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica to crowds in the square below.