VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI ushered in Christmas Eve on Friday with an evening Mass, amid heightened security concerns following package bombings at two embassies in Rome and Christmas Eve security breaches at the Vatican the last two years.
Benedict made a procession down the central aisle of St. Peter's Basilica at the start and end of the Mass without incident; with his normal phalanx of bodyguards on either side, he stopped several times to bless babies held up to him from the pews.
During the same service in 2008 and 2009, a mentally disturbed woman lunged at the pope as he proceeded down the aisle - and last year she managed to pull him to the ground. He wasn't hurt and continued with the Mass, but a cardinal near the pope suffered a broken hip in that scuffle.
Friday's service saw no such interruptions. In his homily, Benedict recalled the birth of Jesus, which is commemorated on Christmas, and prayed that the faithful today might become more like Christ.
"Help us to recognize your face in others who need our assistance, in those who are suffering or forsaken, in all people, and help us to live together with you as brothers and sisters, so as to become one family, your family," he said.
In addition to the past breaches, security was vigilant Friday because of Thursday's package bombings at the Swiss and Chilean embassies, for which anarchists claimed responsibility. The two people who opened the envelopes were injured.
The bombings added to tensions in the capital following a violent antigovernment protest last week in the historic center and a fake bomb found Tuesday on the Rome subway.
The Vatican identified the pope's 2008 and 2009 Christmas Eve assailant as Susanna Maiolo, a Swiss-Italian national with a history of psychiatric problems.
After the 2009 incident, the Vatican reviewed security procedures. But officials have long warned there will always be risks to the pontiff since he is regularly surrounded by tens of thousands of people for his weekly audiences, Masses, and other events.