Pope Francis has apologized for hitting the hand of a well-wisher who grabbed him and yanked him toward her.
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 while he was strolling in the square Tuesday night to admire the Vatican’s Nativity scene.
Cameras captured the scene when the woman, from behind a barrier, reached out and grabbed the pope’s hand, pulling him violently toward her. Francis reacted sharply, exclaimed something and then slapped her hand so she would let him go. Frowning in anger, he turned and strode away.
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” he gave in the incident Tuesday.
Pope Francis grew visibly angry and even swatted at 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.
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 in the 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.
—NBC News and Reuters contributed to this report.