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Vehicle breaches Vatican gate

ROME (AP) — A vehicle driven by an individual displaying signs of psychiatric distress forcefully breached a Vatican gate, proceeding to race past Swiss Guards into a palace courtyard on Thursday evening.

Despite Vatican gendarmes firing a shot at the car’s front tires in an attempt to halt its progress, the vehicle managed to continue its trajectory, as confirmed by the Vatican press office in a statement.

Upon reaching the San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, the driver disembarked from the vehicle and was swiftly apprehended by Vatican gendarmes. The Holy See revealed that the driver, approximately 40 years old, was in a “serious state of psychophysical alteration.” He is presently being detained in the Vatican barracks.

At the time of the incident, it remains uncertain whether Pope Francis was in close proximity to the scene. The occurrence took place after 8 p.m. at the Santa Anna gate, one of the primary entrances to the Vatican City State situated in the heart of Rome.

Normally, Pope Francis resides on the opposite side of Vatican City at the Santa Marta hotel, where he would typically be concluding his evening with dinner and retiring to his room. As reported by the Vatican, the moment the gendarmes alerted of the intrusion, the primary gate obstructing access to the piazza in front of the pontiff’s residence was promptly secured.

This intrusion into the city-state is an unusual event, considering the majority of the enclave remains off-limits to the general public, particularly during nighttime.

While St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums can be accessed by visitors during specified hours, access to other buildings within the precinct requires prior authorization. The Apostolic Palace, which accommodates the papal apartments, significant reception areas, the Vatican archives, and offices, is diligently safeguarded by Swiss Guards and gendarmes manning various checkpoints throughout the day and night.

This is not the first instance in which an individual exhibiting signs of psychiatric distress has disrupted the peace at the Vatican. During a Christmas Eve Mass in 2009, a woman breached the barricade at St. Peter’s Basilica, attempting to assault Pope Benedict XVI. Although the Pope remained unharmed, a cardinal participating in the procession sustained a broken hip amidst the commotion.

A Swiss Guard officer patrols the Santa Anna gate at the Vatican, late Thursday, May 18, 2023. AP
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