Some worshippers wait for hours outside the Vatican in hopes of meeting the Pope face to face. But a woman who grabbed Pope Francis when he appeared to pass her by without a handshake saw a much sterner side of the pontiff.
Flanked by his usual squad of security guards, Pope Francis smiled as he greeted a crowd in St Peter’s Square on New Year’s Eve.
Video of the encounter shows a woman in a black coat leaning against the security railing and making the sign of the cross as the Pope nears.
But just as Pope Francis gets close to the woman, he turns and begins to walk away.
In the video, the woman then reaches out and grabs the Pope’s right hand, yanking him toward her. Pope Francis appears surprised and upset even as the woman shakes his hand and speaks with him.
The Pope then slaps the woman’s hand and appears visibly upset. A security guard intervenes, and the woman eventually lets go.
The heated encounter isn’t the first time the Pope has become upset during public events. Earlier this year, Pope Francis appeared to become irritated when a line of worshippers tried to kiss his papal ring, a common sign of respect that dates backs centuries. In a video, the Pope was seen pulling his hand away from 19 people who tried to kiss the ring.
The video was widely shared online and divided some within the Catholic community, with conservative critics accusing the Pope of showing “graceless” disrespect for the long-standing tradition.
A spokesperson for the Pope said at the time that it was “a simple question of hygiene” and that the Pope did not want to spread germs.
In impromptu remarks on Wednesday, Pope Francis apologized for striking the well-wisher’s hand.
In his new year’s wishes to the public in St Peter’s Square, he said, “so many times we lose patience. Me, too.” The Pope added, “I say ‘excuse me’ for the bad example” he demonstrated in the incident.
Pope Francis is known for warmly greeting worshippers and kissing babies handed to him at public events. Originally from Argentina, Francis has even drunk out of gourds given to him by strangers that are filled with mate, a highly-caffeinated tea popular in South America.
(With files from The Associated Press)