BY STAFF REPORTER
POPE BENEDICT XVI has visited the French cardinal who broke his hip when a woman knocked down the pope at Midnight Mass.
The Pope spent about half an hour chatting to 87-year-old Cardinal Roger Etchegaray at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital.
The cardinal, who was recovering from hip replacement surgery, was able to walk the Pontiff to the door of his hospital room at the end of the visit, the Vatican said.
The two spoke in French, and the Pope asked about the recovery and rehabilitation programme the cardinal was undergoing. The Vatican said Cardinal Etchegaray’s condition was very good and that he was expected to leave the hospital in a few days.
Susanna Maiolo, 25, jumped over a security barrier at the start of the Christmas Eve liturgy as Pope Benedict processed into St Peter’s Basilica. Although Vatican guards tackled her she was able to grab the Pope’s vestments, causing him to lose his balance and tumble to the floor.
The Pope was apparently unharmed and resumed the liturgy, but Cardinal Etchegaray suffered a broken hip when he fell in the confusion. Cardinal Etchegaray served as head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace until his retirement in 2002. He is presently the vice-dean of the College of Cardinals.
In spite of the attack, Vatican officials insist safety procedures worked perfectly and security personnel performed excellently.
Salvatore Festa, the prefect in charge of coordinating the work of several branches of Italian security who protect the Pope, said that despite careful security measures “it’s also clear that there are many other factors that come into play and many times these are random
and unpredictable”. He made his comments in an interview published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“That night everything worked perfectly, according to the usual standards” of security, he said.
The pilgrims and visitors who entered St Peter’s Basilica had all been thoroughly screened for weapons and potentially dangerous objects “and I can guarantee that not even a straight pin got in there without proper authorisation”, Mr Festa said.
Domenico Giani, director of Vatican security services, “reacted in a split second” and immediately inter vened to prevent the woman from harming the Pope, Mr Festa said.
The woman, who was not armed, has a history of mental illness. Vatican sources confirmed that Miss Maiolo was the same person who attempted to run at the Pope at Midnight Mass in 2008, but was tackled, again by Mr Giani, before she could reach the Pontiff.
As The Catholic Herald went to press she was still undergoing evaluation at a psychiatric ward in a hospital 45 miles outside Rome. Doctors’ reports were to play a major role in determining what action, if any, the Vatican would take against Miss Maiolo. The Vatican newspaper article said it would have been impossible for guards to have recognised Miss Maiolo from among thousands of pilgrims who streamed through security. “Not even the most sophisticated video scanner can guarantee recognising a subject,” the article said.
One visible change in security measures adopted after the Christmas Eve Mass involved the placement of the barricades lining the central nave of St Peter’s Basilica. The aisle cleared for the Pope has been widened by almost five feet, which means a slightly smaller seating capacity for papal events, but more room for guards to manoeuvre. The Pope, however, did not let the widened corridor prevent him from having personal contact with pilgrims.
During liturgies beginning on New Year’s Eve the Pope walked up to the waist-high barricades to greet and shake hands with the faithful and bless babies being lifted toward him.
The Pope has praised his security for balancing safety and public access. He told the Italian military police that their “vigilant and discreet presence” at the Vatican helped maintain “security and serenity for pilgrims and visitors”.