ROME (AP) – A car driven by an apparently mentally ill person rushed through the Vatican gate Thursday night, past Swiss guards and into the courtyard of the palace, before the driver was arrested by police, the Holy See said.
The Vatican’s media office said in a statement late Thursday that the Vatican’s gendarmes fired a shot at the front tires of the speeding car after it rushed the gate, but the car managed to continue on its way.
As soon as the car reached the Piazza San Damaso of the Apostolic Palace, the driver got out and was immediately arrested by the Vatican gendarmes. The Vatican said the driver was 40 years old and was in a “serious state of psychosomatic alteration”. He was kept in the Vatican barracks.
It was not clear if Pope Francis was close to the incident, which occurred just after 8 p.m. at the Santa Anna Gate, one of the main entrances to the Vatican City-State in the heart of Rome.
Francis lives across from Vatican City in the Hotel Santa Marta, where he usually dines at that hour and retires to his room. Once the gendarmes sounded the alarm about the incursion, the Vatican statement said, the main gate blocking access to the square in front of the Francis Hotel was closed.
The incident was a rare incursion into the city state, most of which are off-limits to the general public, especially at night.
While visitors can access St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums during business hours, and people with prescriptions can go to the Vatican Pharmacy, permission is required to enter the other buildings in the enclave.
The Apostolic Palace, which houses the papal apartments, main reception rooms, and the Vatican’s archives and offices, is guarded around the clock by Swiss guards and gendarmes who man various checkpoints.
This is not the first time that someone with apparent psychological problems has caused a disturbance in the Vatican. During a mass on Christmas Eve 2009, a woman jumped a parapet of St. Peter’s Basilica and attempted to attack Pope Benedict XVI. He was not injured, although one cardinal walking in the procession broke his hip in the scuffle.
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