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Woman tackles pope at Christmas Eve Mass

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's Basilica got off to a tumultuous start Thursday after an apparently deranged woman jumped the barriers and knocked him down on his way to the altar.

Video aired on Italy's RAI state TV showed a woman dressed in a red hooded sweatshirt vaulting over the wooden barriers and rushing toward the pope before being swarmed by bodyguards.

Video shot by a witness showed the woman grabbing the pope's vestments as she was taken down, with Benedict seemingly falling on top of her.

The commotion occurred as the pope's procession was making its way toward the main altar and shocked gasps rang out through the public that packed the basilica. The procession came to a halt and security rushed to the trouble.

Benedict lost his miter and his staff in the fall. He remained on the ground for a few seconds before being helped back up by attendants.

In his homily, delivered unflappably after the incident, Benedict urged the world to "wake up" from selfishness and petty affairs, and find time for God and spiritual matters.

Earlier, in Bethlehem, thousands of pilgrims from around the world descended on the traditional birthplace of Jesus for the most upbeat Christmas celebrations the Palestinian town has seen in years.

Residents, hemmed in by an Israeli security barrier and still recovering from years of violence, celebrated their town's annual day in the spotlight along with pilgrims and tourists.

Christmas in Bethlehem has its incongruous elements — the troops of Palestinian boy scouts who wear kilts and play bagpipes in one of the town's holiday traditions, for example, or the inflatable Santa Clauses hanging from church pillars and storefronts looking out of place and overdressed in this Middle Eastern town with not a snowflake in sight.

Jeffrey Lynch, 36, of New York City, was taking a tour through the Church of the Nativity, the fourth-century structure built atop the grottos that mark the spot believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

"It's a miracle being here on Christmas Eve. It's a lifetime opportunity. I wish everybody could be here," he said.

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