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Pope Francis apologises for slapping woman's hand outside Vatican

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The pope fights to get away from a woman outside the Vatican.
The pope fights to get away from a woman outside the Vatican.   -   Copyright  AP   -   Crowcroft, Orlando
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Pope Francis has apologised for losing his temper when a woman grabbed his hand as he met pilgrims and tourists outside the Vatican on New Year's Eve.

The pope was caught on camera struggling to pull himself free from the grasp of the woman as he toured the Christmas nativity scene in St Peter's Square.

Visibly angered by the encounter, he then slapped the woman's hand twice after she finally let go of his hand and then walked away from the crowd.

In impromptu remarks Wednesday, Francis said “so many times we lose patience. Me, too." He then added “I say ‘excuse me’ for the bad example" he gave in the incident Tuesday.

The pope had been visiting St Peter's Square on Tuesday night and was greeted by huge crowds, many of which shouted 'Pope! Pope!' and 'Happy New Year' and thrust their children towards him so he could pat their heads or pinch their cheeks.

At a New Year's Eve Vespers service in St. Peter's Basilica, Francis urged people to practice more solidarity.

Since becoming pontiff in 2013, Francis has preached openness - a reform-minded agenda that has irritated a small but vocal group of ultra-conservatives in the church.

The visit to the manger scene is a tradition for the Pope.