Pope visits prelate hurt in basilica incident

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ROME (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI paid a call Saturday on a hospitalized cardinal who broke a hip when a mentally disturbed woman knocked the pontiff down in St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve.

Benedict embraced 87-year-old French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who wore a gray dressing gown during the early evening visit by the pontiff at Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic.

The Vatican said the pope and Etchegaray chatted cordially in French during the 30-minute visit, which hadn’t been announced in advance.

“The pope expressed his interest and spiritual closeness” to Etchegaray, whose recovery was going well following surgery shortly after the injury, the Vatican said.

Benedict was shaken but unhurt Dec. 24 when a young Italian-Swiss woman climbed over a barrier during his procession to the altar. The woman, who is being treated at a psychiatric clinic, grabbed at the pope’s vestments, bringing the 82-year-old Benedict to the ground. The cardinal fell during the commotion as security guards rushed to Benedict’s aid.

Etchegaray is expected to be discharged next week, the Vatican said.

After he visited the cardinal, Benedict greeted patients, a brief Vatican statement said. Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, was treated several times during his papacy at the Catholic teaching hospital.

Vatican magistrates are investigating the Christmas Eve breach of security, which raised concern over the pope’s protection while in public.