As the Pope reached out to his global audience from the central balcony of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome yesterday, the Vatican remained focused on Thursday night’s incident, which raised again the question of how the Pope can be protected while still having close contact with people.

Susanna Maiolo, 25, an ­Italian-Swiss national, caused chaos on Christmas Eve when she jumped over a barricade in the basilica, lunged at Pope Benedict, grabbed his vestments and caused him to fall to the floor.

Members of the congregation screamed as they became aware of Ms Maiolo’s assault, with many capturing the attack on their mobile-phone cameras.

After a few seconds, the Pope stood up with the help of attendants, put back on his mitre and continued down the aisle to cheers of “Viva il Papa!” (“long live the Pope”). He continued to celebrate the Mass without ­further incident.

French-born Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, 87, who has been in frail health recently, toppled over during the assault and was taken away in a wheelchair. He suffered a broken femur and will have to undergo surgery but is not in a serious condition.

The Vatican described Ms Maiolo as “psychologically unstable”, adding that the Pope was not hurt in any way. She was taken to an Italian hospital for psychological treatment.

She also tried to assault the Pope during last year’s Midnight Mass, the Vatican confirmed. Then, Ms Maiolo jumped the barricade but did not manage to reach the Pope and was tackled by security.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said it was impossible to provide watertight security for the Pope because being close to people is part of his mission.

“It is impossible to prevent every possibility of something happening, even at close range,” he said.

“The Pope wants to have a direct, pastoral relationship with people where you can touch children, shake hands and do what you want to do and what the people want you to do.

“If you want watertight ­security, you can’t do that. Being out of touch with people, being far from them, runs against the spirit of his mission.”

In his “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, the 82-year-old Pope said today’s world had to rediscover the ­simplicity of the Christmas message. People should “abandon every logic of violence and vengeance and engage with renewed vigour and generosity in the process which leads to peaceful coexistence,” he said.

He added that while the world was currently steeped in a grave financial crisis, it was also ­affected “even more by a moral crisis, and by the painful wounds of wars and conflicts”.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, leader of Catholics in England and Wales, said the attack on the Pope had surprised him, given the heightened security at the Vatican.

“It’s surprising that it happened inside St Peter’s, because the security there has changed a great deal in recent years and is much more tight than it used to be,” he said.

“But there it is. I’m sure those arrangements will be reviewed and greater care will be taken,” he added.

There have been few security breaches in Pope Benedict’s pontificate, which began in 2005. In 2007 a German man jumped over a barricade in St Peter’s Square as the Pope’s jeep was passing during a general ­audience and tried to board the vehicle.

The most serious attack on a Pope in the Vatican was in 1981 when Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca shot and nearly killed Pope John Paul II in St Peter’s Square.

While visitors to the basilica must pass through metal detectors and spot-checks, security once they get inside is relatively light. Vatican security is shared by a police force and Swiss Guards.

Pope Benedict is due to visit Scotland in 2010. It will be the first Papal visit since John Paul II’s pastoral trip in 1982, when crowds of thousands turned out to welcome him in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park and Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.