UPDATED (go to bottom of entry)
Here is a shot of a guy (27 year old German) trying to jump onto the Holy Father’s jeep as it passes by during a General Audience in the square. (For video for here.)
Just before I came back I had a chat with some Vatican security folks about the difficulties they are experiencing because of the increasingly large crowds coming to see the Holy Father for audiences, recitation of the Angelus, and Masses.
A while back I found a story which I didn’t post, but it is appropriate now. If anyone wondered whether the crowds were really increasing. It was an interview with the commandant of the Swiss Guard (my translation from Italian):
The number of hours of work of the (Swiss) Guards has increased with the election of Benedict XVI… According to our statistics each Guard assumes about 10 hours of extraordinary duty each month, for a total of about 185 hours. During the Wednesday general audiences with John Paul II, there were present between 15,000 and 20,000 pilgrims. Now, there are present between 30,000 and 40,000 faithful. Consequently we have needed about 20 supplementary Guards in uniform to assure order in St. Peter’s Square.
This dope in the square today has underscored the difficulties faced when trying to secure the Pope’s safety. This week the challenges in Rome will be HUGE also because President Bush will come to Rome to visit the Holy Father. There will be massive anti-American demonstrations on the part of the left and anarchist bozos who crawl out of the Cloaca Maxima for these occasions.
I suspect there is a great deal of pressure on the Pope to decrease his exposure in the Square.
Remember that in Italy these days the Church and the Pope have been under attack. The left is losing ground with the Italian people. Let us not forget that before the huge success of "Family Day" in May the new President of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), Archbp. Bagnasco of Genoa, was sent death threats. During the meeting of the CEI in Rome a couple weeks ago, he had to travel in a secure perimeter. The "anti-family" legislation (read: "pro-homosexual") that has been introduced has met with serious opposition from the Church and Catholic lay groups, and they are I think gaining ground.
Now that the old Christian Democrat Party is defunct and not serving as weak-kneed compromising filter between the Church and the people, the left-wing is becoming increasingly agitated. As happened in the 80’s there could eventually fragment off of the left, with anarchists and the radical homosexualists, a seriously violent faction.
Today’s incident should remind us that there is a social context to these images and news stories. This is important because what happens with the Church in Italy, and in St. Peter’s Square, can actually have ripple effects through the rest of the Catholic world. Events like this can subtly change things like timing and language.
UPDATE (16:55 CET):
I have been getting calls and SMSs. One of the Swiss Guards on the security detail who brought this guy down to the cobblestones was injured and hospitalized.
I am told this was an attack and not just an enthusiastic pilgrim or someone seeking his few minutes of fame. The reason for the attack is unclear.
Meanwhile, on TGCOM it is reported that the Holy See says: "Nessun attentato, voleva solo attirare l’attenzione su di sÃ© … No attack, he only wanted to get himself some attention". Fr. Lombardi, papal spokesman, said that he was "squilibrato", "mentally unbalanced" and psychiatric specialists were brought in.
UPDATE (17:25 CET):
There is another video available. You can clearly see that one of the Vatican gendarmes saw there was a problem with this guy, who was several layers of people away from the barrier. The gendarme was lined up at the barrier directly across from the guy when he jumped. We can surmise the guy had been shouting something other than "Viva il Papa!" before he jumped. What he must have been shouting was bad enough to have attracted the serious focus of that gendarme.
UPDATE (17:35 CET):
Apparently the guy was a 27 year old German. The Holy See, via Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, is saying that this was not an attack, but that the fellow was mentally unbalanced.
On the other hand, I must point out, you can see on the videos that it took several men to get this guy to the ground. Also, one of the non-uniformed Swiss went to the hospital. What might this guy have done had he reached the Pope? Would it have looked more like an attack then?