Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, told reporters that an “apparently unbalanced” woman jumped the barriers and ran toward the Pope and knocked him to the ground as he walked down the main aisle toward the altar.
The woman also collided with Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, who also fell to the ground.
The Holy Father, 82, got back on his feet quickly. When seeing that the Pontiff recovered, the thousands who had gathered in the basilica for Mass cheered.
Cardinal Etchegaray, who is the former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, was taken to the hospital for a check-up.
The woman was seized by bodyguards and was arrested by the police and taken in for questioning.
The Christmas vigil Mass was celebrated for the first time in recent memory at 10 p.m., instead of at midnight, in an effort to make Christmas “a little less tiring for the Pope.”