On Thursday evening, a car driven by someone with apparent psychiatric problems passed through a Vatican gate and passed Swiss guards in the courtyard of a palace before the driver was arrested by police, the Holy See said.
Vatican gendarmes fired a shot at the front tires of the speeding car after it rushed to the gate, but the vehicle managed to continue on its way, the Vatican press office said in a statement Thursday.
Once the car reached the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace, the driver got out and was immediately arrested by the Vatican gendarmes. The Vatican said the driver was in his 40s and in a “severe state of psychophysical impairment”. He was being held in the Vatican barracks.
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It is not clear whether Pope Francis was in the vicinity of the incident, which took place after 8 pm at Porta Sant’Anna, one of the main entrances to the Vatican City State, in the heart of Rome.
Francis lives on the other side of Vatican City at the Santa Marta hotel, where at that hour he would normally have lunch and retire to his room. The Vatican statement states that as soon as the gendarmes raised the alarm of an incursion, the main gate blocking access to the square in front of Francesco’s hotel was closed.
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The incident was a rare foray into the city state, much of which is off-limits to the public, especially at night.
While visitors can access St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums during business hours and people with medical prescriptions can go to the Vatican pharmacy, permission is required to enter other buildings in the enclave.
The Apostolic Palace, which houses the papal apartments, the main halls, archives and Vatican offices, is monitored 24 hours a day by Swiss Guards and gendarmes who man various checkpoints.
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It’s not the first time someone with obvious psychiatric problems has wreaked havoc in the Vatican. During a 2009 Christmas Eve mass, a woman jumped the barricade of St. Peter’s Basilica and tried to attack Pope Benedict XVI. She was not injured, although a cardinal walking in the procession broke his hip in the ruckus.