ROME – Pope Francis apologized New Year’s Day after losing his cool the night before and slapping the hand of a woman who grabbed his own hand and yanked him toward her while the pontiff was greeting pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

During the incident, which happened after the pope’s New Year’s Eve Vespers liturgy, Francis had been walking to visit the Vatican’s nativity scene and was greeting pilgrims along the way.

After reaching out to touch a child, he turned away from the crowd, but as he did so a woman reached out and grasped his hand, yanking him back towards her. Francis, who stumbled, appeared to be in pain and was visibly upset. When the woman would not let go, he slapped her hand to free himself.

It was unclear what the woman, who had made the sign of the cross before grabbing his hand, was trying to say as she tugged the pope toward her.

In his Jan. 1 Angelus address, which coincides with the Catholic Church’s celebration of the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the pope apologized for the incident.

Speaking of Jesus’ birth, he said the Christ child is “the blessing of God for every man and woman, for the great human family and for the whole world.”

Jesus “did not remove evil from the world but defeated it at the root,” he said, adding that “his salvation is not magical, but patient, that is, it involves the patience of love, which takes charge of iniquity and power.”

At the mention of patience, Francis said “I apologize for the poor example yesterday,” in a likely reference to the incident with the woman.

In a homily earlier Wednesday morning, the pope issued a harsh condemnation of violence against women, saying “By how we treat a woman’s body, we can understand our level of humanity.”


Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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