Pope Francis has apologised for slapping a woman who had grabbed him as he greeted a crowd of devotees - shortly before he delivered a speech denouncing 'every form of violence against women.'
The image of a visibly annoyed Francis slapping his way free from the clutches of an admirer as he walked by Catholic faithful on New Year's Eve instantly went viral on social media.
A personal apology followed.
'We lose patience many times,' Francis confessed.
'It happens to me too. I apologise for the bad example given yesterday,' the head of the Catholic church said before celebrating Mass at the Vatican.
Twitter enthusiasts commented with abandon on the pontiff's prompt riposte to the woman.
The day after the incident, the Pope decried violence against women in a speech at the Vatican, saying that it is like profaning God. He contended that if we want a better world in the new year, we should treat women with dignity. He added that involving women in decision-making is key to making humanity more peaceful and united.
In his homily during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, Francis decried 'how many times women's bodies are sacrificed on the profane altar of advertisements, of profit, of pornography.' He lamented that while women are in his words 'the sources of life,' they are continually offended, beaten, raped, forced into prostitution' or forced to have abortions.
Francis praised women as 'donors and mediators of peace,' and urged that they should become 'fully associated' with decision-making in order to make the world more united and at peace.
'A conquest for women is a conquest for the whole of humanity,' he said.
In his remarks, Francis didn't mention prejudice against women in the Catholic church. According to Vatican teaching, women can't become priests. Some conservative elements of the Catholic church also are scandalized by parishes that allow girls to be altar servers.
A visibly indignant Pope Francis had to pull himself away from a woman in a crowd in St Peter's Square yesterday evening after she grabbed his hand and yanked him towards her.
Pope Francis was walking through St Peter's Square in Vatican City and greeting pilgrims on his way to see the large Nativity scene set up in the huge, cobbled esplanade.
After reaching out to touch a child, the pope turned away from the crowd only for a nearby woman to seize his hand and pull her towards him. The abrupt gesture appeared to cause him pain and Francis swiftly wrenched his hand free.
The woman had made the sign of the cross as the pope had approached. It was not clear what she was saying as she subsequently tugged him towards her.
The 83-year-old pope grimaced before managing to break free by slapping her hand twice.
He continued his tour, walking with some difficulty while maintaining a slightly greater distance from visitors, and gradually relaxed again as he came into contact with other children.
Apart from the brief upset, Pope Francis' stroll delighted most tourists and Romans.
Shouts of 'Pope! Pope!' and 'Happy New Year!' resounded as families rushed to catch a glimpse of him or thrust out their infant in hopes he would pat their heads or pinch their cheeks.
At a New Year's Eve Vespers service in St. Peter's Basilica, Francis urged people to practice more solidarity and to 'build bridges, not walls.'
Since becoming pontiff in 2013, Francis has preached openness - a reform-minded agenda that has irritated a small but vocal group of ultra-conservatives in the church.
On Christmas Eve, the Pope urged the world to let the light of Christmas pierce the 'darkness in human hearts' as he led Christian celebrations around the world.
The 83-year-old pontiff singled out conflicts in Venezuela, Ukraine and Syria as well as armed conflicts ravaging many African countries as he appealed for peace in troubled hotspots.
Francis delivered his message hours after assuring the faithful that God loves everyone - 'even the worst of us' - following a year of scandals and opposition.
The pontiff led global celebrations as worshippers gathered around the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus, beginning in Bethlehem and continuing in Sri Lanka where worshipers marked the first Christmas since the Easter Sunday terror attack.
The Pope offered a Christmas message of hope against darkness that cloaks conflicts and relationships in large parts of the world from the Middle East to the Americas to Africa.
He told tens of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and Romans gathered in St Peter's Square for the annual Christmas Day message that 'the light of Christ is greater' than the darkness 'in human hearts' and 'in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts'.
Francis was flanked by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the papal council for migrants, and Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the pope's official almsgiver.
The pope cited the Syrian people 'who still see no end to the hostilities that have rent their country over the last decade', as well as Israel, where Jesus 'was born as the saviour of mankind and where so many people - struggling but not discouraged - still await a time of peace, security and prosperity'.
Francis also called for an easing of the crisis in Lebanon, social tensions in Iraq and the 'grave humanitarian crisis' in Yemen.
He noted that a number of countries in the Americas 'are experiencing a time of social and political upheaval', citing 'the beloved Venezuelan people, long tried by their political and social tensions'.
The pope also noted migrants forced by injustice 'to emigrate in the hope of a secure life'.
Instead of finding acceptance, Francis said, injustice continues along their journey, where they often face abuse, enslavement and torture in 'inhumane detention camps' and death during dangerous sea and desert crossings.
And once migrants arrive in 'places where they might have hoped for a dignified life' ... they 'instead find themselves before walls of indifference', he said.
The pope offered prayers of hope for the people of Africa, including those in Congo 'torn by continuing conflicts' and the people of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, where people have been 'persecuted for their religious faith'.
And in an extraordinary message, Francis, along with two other religious leaders, urged the rival chiefs of South Sudan to maintain a pledge to form a coalition government early next year.
A peace deal to end a five-year civil war that has killed close to 400,000 people was signed last year, but a November deadline to form a coalition government was extended to February as key aspects of the peace deal still need to be resolved.
'May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world,' Francis said in his traditional message.
The Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also sent joint wishes of 'peace and prosperity' to South Sudan as negotiations faltered between the African country's government and rebels.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.