VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI's Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's Basilica got off to a tumultuous start Thursday after an apparently deranged woman jumped the barriers and knocked him down on his way to the altar.
In his homily, delivered unflappably after the incident, Benedict urged the world to "wake up" from selfishness and petty affairs, and find time for God and spiritual matters.
The 82-year-old pope was unhurt after his fall, said a Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini.
Earlier, in Bethlehem, thousands of pilgrims from around the world descended on the , for the most upbeat Christmas celebrations the Palestinian town has seen in years.
While the Holy Land's top Roman Catholic clergyman reminded followers that peace remains elusive, while the threat of sectarian violence in the Islamic world and the lava spilling from a volcano in the Philippines clouded the celebrations for other Christian communities across the globe.
At the , witness video obtained by The Associated Press showed a woman dressed in a red hooded sweat shirt vaulting over the wooden barriers that cordoned off the basilica's main aisle and rushing toward the pope before being swarmed by bodyguards. She grabbed the pope's vestments as she was taken down, with Benedict seemingly falling on top of her.
The commotion happened as the pope's procession was making its way toward the main altar and shocked gasps rang out through the public that packed the basilica. The procession came to a halt and security rushed to the trouble spot.
Benedettini said the woman who pushed the pope appeared to be mentally unstable and had been arrested by Vatican police. He said she also knocked down , who was taken to hospital for a check up.
"During the procession an unstable person jumped a barrier and knocked down the Holy Father," Benedettini told The Associated Press by telephone. "(The pope) quickly got up and continued the procession."
In Bethlehem, residents hemmed in by an Israeli security barrier and still recovering from years of violence, celebrated their town's annual day in the spotlight along with pilgrims and tourists. Visitors milled around , mingling with clergymen, camera crews and locals hawking food and trinkets.
Christmas in Bethlehem has its incongruous elements — the troops of Palestinian boy scouts who wear kilts and play bagpipes in one of the town's holiday traditions, for example, or the inflatable Santa Clauses hanging from church pillars and storefronts looking out of place and overdressed in this Middle Eastern town with not a snowflake in sight.
Jeffrey Lynch, 36, a sanitation worker from New York City, was taking a tour through the Church of the Nativity, the fourth-century Crusader era structure built atop the grottos that mark the spot believed to be the .
"It's a miracle being here on Christmas Eve. It's a lifetime opportunity. I wish everybody could be here," he said.
But the Holy Land's top Roman Catholic cleric, Jerusalem., reminded listeners in a holiday address that peace remains out of reach. "The wish that we most want, we most hope for, is not coming. We want peace," Twal said after he passed into in a traditional holiday procession from nearby
Twal and his convoy of dozens of vehicles entered Palestinian-controlled territory through a massive steel gate in Israel's heavily guarded West Bank separation barrier, escorted by Israeli soldiers and police in jeeps.
The barrier and the heavy Israeli security presence served as reminders of the friction and hostilities that have thwarted peace efforts.
Only hours later, an Israeli man was shot and killed in the West Bank in an attack by Palestinian gunmen. Such attacks, once common, have become rare in recent years as the West Bank has regained a semblance of normalcy.
The Israeli military identified the man as a resident of a nearby settlement, and a little-known Palestinian faction took responsibility in an e-mail sent to journalists.
Some Christians in other far-flung parts of the world also saw gloom edge out the holiday cheer.
Baghdad's small remaining Christian minority was to celebrate midnight Mass in daylight for security reasons, and churches were under heavy guard. A bombing this week targeting a 1,200-year-old church in Mosul killed two passers-by, underscoring Iraqi Christians' concerns.
A marble palace once occupied by Saddam Hussein housed an impromptu Christmas celebration for U.S. soldiers and others far from home.
"I have mixed emotions," said Lt. Col Timothy Bedsole, 52, an Army chaplain from Alabama who was marking his second Christmas in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. "It's a very happy time for us as Christians and a very sad time to be away from our families."
Few were celebrating at a tent camp 220 miles southwest of Islamabad, Pakistan, erected to house Christians left homeless by a rampage of looting and arson by Muslims in August.
The Christians say they have received cell phone text messages warning them to expect a "special Christmas present." They're terrified their tents will be torched or their church services bombed.
"Last year I celebrated Christmas full of joy," said Irfan Masih, cradling his young son among the canvas shelters and open ditches of the camp. But now "the fear that we may again be attacked is in our hearts."
Far to the east, in the shadow of the erupting Mayon volcano in the Philippines, thousands of families were spending in shelters as the volcano belched out 20 gray ash columns Thursday, some of them a mile (1.5 kilometers) high.
Government workers and volunteers tried to keep some 47,000 displaced residents entertained with games, movies and concerts, a heavy burden during the in this majority Roman Catholic country.
Noodles, fruit and corned beef were distributed at the shelters for . Children in one evacuation center gleefully lined up for ice cream.
Associated Press Writer Dalia Nammari contributed to this report from , .