Pope Benedict XVI Attacked on Christmas Eve

The woman who pulled Pope Benedict XVI to the floor during Christmas Eve mass at St Peter's Basilica has been taken to hospital, the Vatican spokesman said on Friday.

Susanna Maiolo, 25, is of dual Swiss and Italian nationality, Federico Lombardi told AFP.

The woman, whom Lombardi described Thursday as "apparently unbalanced," leapt over a security barricade and threw herself at Pope Benedict, 82, in a dramatic start to Christmas Eve mass at St Peter's Basilica.

The pontiff was back on his feet within moments and went on to celebrate the mass undaunted by the assault, speaking out in his homily against selfishness as Christians across the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Lombardi said Maiolo tried to approach Pope Benedict on the same occasion a year ago without getting past the security barrier, AFP reports.

Meanwhile, in December, 2008, he same woman who dragged the Pope to the floor on Christmas Eve this year, tried unsuccessfully to carry out the same stunt last year.

She was apprehended by security guards.

In June, 2007, a 27-year-old German man tried to attack the Pope as he travelled around St Peter’s Square in an open topped Jeep.

The man, dressed in black shorts, trainers and pink sweatshirt had to be subdued by the Pope’s minders. The Pontiff did not react and continued waving at the crowd, Telegraph.co.uk reports.

It was also reported, there have been relatively few security breaches in Benedict's pontificate, which began in 2005. In 2007 a German man jumped over a barricade in St Peter's Square as the pope's jeep was passing during a general audience and tried to board the vehicle.

The most serious attack on a pope in the Vatican was in 1981 when Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca shot and nearly killed Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Square.

Thursday's incident, which left Vatican security guards visibly shaken and bishops stunned, happened at the start of a Mass at which Benedict led the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics into Christmas.

It raised again the issue of how vulnerable the pope can be if he wants to maintain contact with the public.

"It's surprising that it happened inside St Peter's, because the security there has changed a great deal in recent years and is much more tight than it used to be," the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, told the BBC, The Washington Post reports.

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