Monday, December 28, 2009

Pope's Christmas marked by calls for charity, security incident

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Christmas with a call for unselfish charity and solidarity with the suffering, and underlined the message two days later by lunching with the poor at a Rome soup kitchen.

The pope's Christmas was marred by a security scare on Christmas Eve, when a mentally unbalanced woman rushed the 82-year-old pontiff and knocked him to the marble floor of St. Peter's Basilica. The pope was unharmed but French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray suffered a broken hip when he fell in the confusion.

The incident occurred as the pope processed into the basilica at the start of the 10 p.m. Mass. Amateur videos posted on YouTube showed a woman wearing a red sweatshirt leaping over the security barrier and grabbing the pope's vestments, as Vatican security guards swarmed above them.

The alarmed congregation inside the basilica broke into applause when the pope quickly rose to his feet and continued the procession down the main aisle, looking somewhat shaken. The liturgy proceeded without further incident.

Vatican sources confirmed that the woman was the same person who attempted to rush the pope at Midnight Mass last year, but was tackled by guards before she could reach the pontiff. The woman, 25-year-old Susanna Maiolo, an Italian and Swiss citizen, was taken into custody for psychiatric evaluations.

In his Christmas Eve homily, the pope said conflict in the world stems from the fact that "we are locked into our own interests and our desires." He said many people have become "religiously tone-deaf" and unable to perceive God, absorbed by worldly affairs and professional occupations.

"For most people, the things of God are not given priority.... And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think," he said.

Despite this mentality, he said, a path for discovering and appreciating God exists for everyone. It is a path marked with signs, he said, and at Christmas God's sign is that "he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love."


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