This past Saturday the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, performed a penitential rite following the desecration of the Altar of the Confessio. Situated at the crossing, the main altar of St. Peter’s sits above the tomb of St. Peter and is considered one of the holiest sites in all of Christendom.
This event unfolded on June 1st, shortly before the closing of the Basilica, when a Polish national climbed the stairs ascending towards the papal altar, a space off-limits to the public. He quickly undressed, and jumped on the altar, exposing the message written on his back: “Save Children of Ukraine”. He was detained by the Vatican Gendarmerie and later handed over to Italian authorities.
The penitential rites that Cardinal Gambetti performed included the recitation of the Creed and a blessing of water that he later sprinkled on the altar as a sign of purification. Afterwards, the altar was dressed with a new altar cloth and adorned with candles, flowers, and a crucifix.
During the rite the Cardinal also took a moment to speak about the man’s actions, framing it within the structure of sin in our world that conditions the hearts and minds of people. He emphasized that it was this very structure of sin that pushed this individual to make an “inappropriate and deplorable gesture. ”
This man’s actions preceded Cardinal Matteo Zuppi’s visit to Ukraine, who was sent by Pope Francis as his personal envoy to undertake a special mission to encounter and dialogue with the principal authorities of the country and listen to them to better understand possible pathways to peace. Today, the Holy See Press office reported that Cardinal Zuppi arrived in Kyiv, where he will remain until tomorrow.
The incident inside St. Peter’s comes only two weeks after another security breach at the Vatican when a man drove through security at the Saint Anna gate close to midnight on May 18th. He was eventually stopped at the San Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic palace after the Vatican Gendarmerie shot out his tires. This event was as concerning as it was perplexing given he was even able to make it that far.
There have been no announcements made by the Holy See Press Office as to whether there will be additional security measures. But, given that these two events expose some vulnerabilities with the Vatican’s security apparatus, there will certainly be a thorough internal overview of how to prevent future incidents like this.
Nevertheless, the Swiss Guard and the Vatican Gendarmerie are highly trained and take threat assessment seriously as the Vatican, both the epicenter of Catholicism and a major tourist spot, is a prominent target for all kinds of activism and even terrorism.
Should the perpetrators have acted with more violent intentions, then the outcome could have been much more serious, especially at least in the case with the car.
(Edited by Matthew Santucci)
Andreas Thonhauser is EWTN Vatican Bureau Chief. He earned a Master of Business Administration from the WU Executive Academy in Vienna and a Master’s degree in German Philology/Anglistics and Americanistics from the University of Vienna. Prior to joining EWTN, Thonhauser worked as the Director of External Affairs for a global human rights organization, and for several media outlets in Vienna, Austria.