IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Pope Francis apologizes for swatting well-wisher's hand

"I say ‘excuse me’ for the bad example," the Pope said in his New Year's address.
Get more newsLiveonNBC News Now

Pope Francis has apologized for swatting away the hand of a woman who tugged his arm as the head of the Roman Catholic Church greeted pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on New Year's Eve.

In video of the incident, Francis walks down a line of admirers separated by fencing, clasping their hands, waving and smiling with the basilica and the Vatican obelisk in the background.

Just as the pope appears to turn to walk away from the crowd, a woman reaches out, grabs his hand and then jerks him forcefully toward her.

Francis immediately recoils and swats at her hand to free himself as the pope's security detail also moves to intervene.

In his new year's wishes to the public in St. Peter's Square on Wednesday, Francis confessed to losing his patience with the woman.

In his impromptu remarks Wednesday, Francis said “so many times we lose patience. Me, too." He then added, “I say ‘excuse me’ for the bad example."

The woman made the sign of the cross just before the incident. It's not clear what she said to the pope as she grabbed him.

Earlier the same day, Francis had attended the private funeral of a friend, showing up without notice at the Roman parish of San Giuseppe al Nomentano to pay his respects to María Grazia Mara, the Vatican said, confirming reports in Italian media.

Mara, a professor emerita at the Patristic Institute Augustinianum in Rome, died Monday at 95. She was a noted scholar of the history and theology of the Roman Catholic Church's founders whom Francis visited at her home in 2018 and then singled out for special praise during a visit to the college in early 2019.