Pope Francis apologised on Wednesday for his widely-viewed slap of a woman, who had grabbed his hand as he greeted Catholic faithful on New Year’s eve.

The image of Francis slapping his way free from the clutches of the admirer was an instant hit on social media.

A personal apology followed.

He said, “We lose patience many times.

“It happens to me too. I apologise for the bad example given yesterday.” 

Pope Francis had greeted children before the Nativity scene on Saint Peter’s Square and was turning away when the woman, who had crossed herself then cried out something, pulled on his hand and almost caused him to fall.

The 83-year-old grimaced before managing to break free by slapping her hand twice.

He continued his tour, walking with some difficulty while maintaining a slightly greater distance from visitors, and gradually relaxed again as he came into contact with other children.

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