It's been a week full of Christmas surprises, but probably no one received more of a shock than Pope Francis did on Christmas day. A member from the Ukrainian-French feminist group Femen descended onto the Vatican on Christmas, topless with the words "God Is Woman" written on her stomach. The woman reportedly stole the statue of Baby Jesus from the nativity display in St Peter’s Square, while Vatican visitors looked on in disbelief.
The Guardian identified the woman as Iana Aleksandrovna Azhdanova of Ukraine. According to eyewitness reports, she was shouting "anti-religion" remarks as she ran through the famous square and took Baby Jesus into her arms. The protest occurred just an hour after Francis addressed the crowd and delivered a Christmas message.
Azhdanova was apprehended by Vatican police, and was placed in a holding cell at the Vatican until Saturday afternoon. In a true gesture of Christmas cheer (and Catholic mercy), the office of the Holy See decided to release Azhdanova, who was initially charged with "disturbing the peace, obscene acts in a public place, and theft."
According to the Associated Press, the charges were dropped against the feminist activist. However, Azhdanova has been banned from stepping foot on any Vatican property for the rest of her life — so no more feminist theatrics at the home of Pope Francis.
Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi initially told the media on Friday that Azhdanova's protest was "extremely serious," particularly because the demonstration "intentionally offend the religious sentiments of a very large number of people." But on Saturday, Lombardi said the Holy See prosecutor decided to somewhat pardon Azhdanova, and only subject the activist to banishment from Vatican property.
Femen, which was founded in Ukraine in 2008 but is now based in Paris, is no stranger to sparking controversy. The radical feminist group typically orchestrates provocative and topless protests in very public spaces, including an infamous (topless) ambush of Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2013.
The feminist group is not necessarily anti-religion, but their anti-patriarchy views, which include a vehement fight for abortion rights, don't often place the organization on the side of the Catholic or Orthodox churches. Femen also strongly opposes Sharia law and other aspects of Islam.
Pope Francis hasn't commented publicly on the recent Femen protest and Baby Jesus theft, nor how he feels about the message "God Is Woman." For some reason, I don't think topless protests is what the pontiff had in mine when he said women have "feminine genius."
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