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POPE-SECURITY Jan-8-2010 (640 words) With photos posted Dec. 25, 28 and 30. xxxi

Officer says security worked perfectly on eve woman knocked pope down

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Safety procedures worked perfectly and security personnel performed excellently the night Pope Benedict XVI was knocked down by the same woman who had attempted to get close to him a year before, a chief security officer said.

Salvatore Festa, the prefect in charge of coordinating the work of several branches of Italian security who protect the pope, said despite careful security measures, "it's also clear that there are many other factors that come into play and many times these are random and unpredictable."

He made his comments in an interview published Jan.7 in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

"That night everything worked perfectly, according to the usual standards" of security, he said.

The pilgrims and visitors who entered St. Peter's Basilica had all been thoroughly screened for weapons and potentially dangerous objects, "and I can guarantee that not even a straight pin got in there without proper authorization," Festa said.

Domenico Giani, director of Vatican security services, "reacted in a split second" and immediately intervened to prevent the woman from harming the pope, Festa said.

Susannah Maiolo, 25, jumped a security barrier at the start of the Dec. 24 liturgy as Pope Benedict processed into St. Peter's Basilica. As Vatican guards tackled her to the ground, she was able to grab the pope's vestments, causing him to lose his balance and tumble to the floor.

The woman, who was not armed, has a history of mental illness. Vatican sources confirmed that Maiolo was the same person who attempted to rush the pope at midnight Mass in 2008, but was tackled, again by Giani, before she could reach the pontiff.

As of Jan. 8, she was still undergoing evaluation at a psychiatric ward in a hospital 45 miles outside of Rome. Doctors' reports were to play a major role in determining what action, if any, the Vatican would take against Maiolo.

The Vatican newspaper article said it would have been impossible for guards to have recognized Maiolo from among thousands of pilgrims who streamed through security. "Not even the most sophisticated video scanner can guarantee recognizing a subject," the article said.

One visible change in security measures adopted after the Dec. 24 Mass involved the placement of the barricades lining the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica. The aisle cleared for the pope has been widened by almost five feet, which means a slightly smaller seating capacity for papal events, but more room for guards to maneuver.

The pope, however, did not let the widened corridor prevent him from having personal contact with pilgrims. During liturgies beginning Dec. 31, the pope walked up to the waist-high barricades to greet and shake hands with the faithful and bless babies being lifted toward him.

In annual audiences with security personnel to offer them holiday greetings, the pope praised their ability to balance safety and public access.

In an audience Jan. 8 with the Italian military police assigned to the area around St. Peter's Square, the pope noted that their "vigil and discrete presence" at the Vatican helped maintain "security and serenity for pilgrims and visitors."

He said "the house of Peter is always open to welcome ... believers and all people of good will."

The Italian police work silently and diligently offering their humble yet indispensable and precious service so that all who come to the Vatican can "experience the joy of faith and the values of brotherhood, welcome and mutual respect," he said.

In an audience Jan. 8 with members of the Inspectorate for Public Security at the Vatican, Pope Benedict thanked officers for their efforts to maintain public safety, which "is particularly important for carrying out the mission of the Roman pontiff."

The calm and peaceful atmosphere that comes with proper security allows people to have "an authentic religious experience" when they visit the center of the Catholic Church, he said.


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