By Philip Pullella
Friday, December 25, 2009; A17
VATICAN CITY -- A woman the Vatican described as unstable jumped over a barricade, lunged at Pope Benedict XVI and knocked him to the floor at the start of his Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica.
The 82-year-old pope was apparently not harmed and went on to finish the two-hour service late on Thursday, but an elderly French cardinal in the papal procession fell to the floor and was taken to a hospital after suffering a broken leg.
Television footage showed the woman, dressed in a red top, jumping over the barricade and hurling herself at the pope, provoking screams from the crowd.
The woman grabbed the pontiff's vestments as she was taken down by a security guard, and both she and the pope then fell to the marble floor.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the woman, who he described as "unstable," was the same person who tried to jump a barricade to get close to the pope at last year's Christmas Mass.
The Pope, dressed in gold-and-white vestments, was helped up by security men, and after a few seconds continued the procession up the center aisle to celebrate the Mass. He seemed calm and unfazed during the rest of the ceremony.
But French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, who has been in frail health recently, fell to the floor and was taken away in a wheelchair. He suffered a broken femur, Lombardi said.
The woman was detained for questioning by Vatican security police and was not immediately identified.