The Papal Assassination Attempt

On 13 May 1981 in St Peter’s Square an attempt was made on the life of Pope John Paul II. The assassin, who was quickly apprehended, but not before his bullets hit the pope four times, was one Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk who had escaped from prison in his country.

The pope was wounded in the abdomen, left hand and right arm; “Mary, my mother,” John Paul gasped as he collapsed. Yet, he quickly made full recovery even though a 41-hour operation removed part of his intestine and replaced almost all his blood with transfusions.

The background of the assassination attempt has never been satisfactorily explained. Ali Agca, a lapsed Muslim who had links to a Turkish ultranationalist group, the Gray Wolves, never explained his motives. He suggested that the K.G.B. and Bulgarian intelligence were involved, but later retracted those claims. Investigators founded tantalizing details that seemed to support some of his assertions, but nothing was proved, and three Bulgarians and three Turks arrested in connection to the case were released.

Ali Agca, however, received life imprisonment, and remained in prison until June 2000, when he was officially pardoned. However, he had long been forgiven by the pope, both publicly from his hospital bed, and privately when he went to visit Ali Agca in prison. On that moving occasion, Ali Agca knelt and kissed the Fisherman’s ring in a sign of respect; he did not ask for forgiveness. Instead, he said, “I know I was aiming right. I know that the bullet was a killer, So why aren’t you dead?”

Over the years, John Paul, who was very mystical for a pope, had always asked himself the same question. The fact that the bullets missed vital organs by millimetres confirmed the near messianic sense of his mission on earth. John Paul always maintained that his survival was a miracle, and that he had been spared for some divine purpose.

The assassination had been attempted on the anniversary of the day in 1917 when three shepherd children first allegedly saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, and John Paul II credited the Madonna of Fatima with saving his life. The near fatal bullet was fitted into a jeweled crown worn by her statue. In May 2000, the Vatican revealed that the third part of the vision imparted to the children at Fatima, which was long kept secret, had been an assassination attempt on a pope.



The Pope in Poland


In 1981, the streets of Warsaw were guarded by tanks and lined with small bonfires to warm the hands of military patrols. On Dec. 13, 1981, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland’s Prime Minister, imposed martial law, initiating a brutal 19-month crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity trade-union movement in which an estimated 90 people were killed and 10,000 detained. This series of events greatly bothered Pope John Paul II, himself a pope.

So, in June 1983, he travelled to Poland. On 17th June, at Belvedere Palace, the official residence of the Prime Minister, he met with Premier Jaruzelski. The pope traveled to his home country to support a revolt against communism and movement for democracy led by Lech Walesa. Jaruzelski himself was a moderate (when compared to the other communist leaders of the Eastern Europe) and the papal gesture combined with the moderates on the both of the conflicts led to the Round Table Talks that eventually led to the democratization of Poland in 1989.