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May 13 The Shooting of John Paul II


Today we remember an assassination attempt that shocked the world. Its 1981, the last years of the Cold War, and the early years of the first Slavic Pope's ministry. A Charismatic figure, attracting the media and huge crowds John Paul was a real threat to some people. A Turkish gunman shot him at short range? The Pope survived and believed that his survival was miraculous. We look at the background to this complex story.



John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a professional Turkish gunman who was a member of the militant fascist group Grey Wolves. The Pope was struck four times in the abdomen and perforating his colon and small intestine multiple times. He was rushed to the Gemelli Hospital and lost nearly three-quarters of his blood. On the way to the hospital, he lost consciousness. Undergoing five hours of surgery, the medics performed a colostomy, temporarily rerouting the upper part of the large intestine to let the damaged lower part heal. When he briefly regained consciousness before being operated on, he instructed the doctors not to remove his Brown Scapular during the operation. The wearing of the scapular was a Carmelite devotion dating back to 1251, when Our Lady appeared to St. Simon Stock in Aylesford, England. She handed him a brown woollen scapular and said, “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire.” In time, the Church extended this privilege to all the laity who are willing to be invested in the Brown Scapular of the Carmelites and who perpetually wear it.


One of the few people allowed in to see the Pope at the Gemelli Clinic was one of his closest friends philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, who arrived three days later to keep him company as he recovered. The pope told her that the Blessed Virgin Mary helped keep him alive throughout his ordeal. He was very conscious that the assassination attempt had occurred on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and had been predicted in the third secret of Fatima (see pod of May 12 for more details). When he had recovered he would return to Fatima and place one of the bullets into the centre of Our Lady’s crown as a tribute. Later he is quoted as saying, Could I forget that the event in St. Peter's Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fátima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet


Ağca was caught and restrained by a nun and other bystanders until police arrived. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. While in prison on remand, Ağca was widely reported to have developed an obsession with Fatima and during the trial claimed that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ and called on the Vatican to release the Third Secret. Born in Turkey As a youth, Mehmet Agca had become a petty criminal and a member of numerous street gangs in his hometown. He claims to have received two months of training in weaponry and terrorist tactics in Syria as a member of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine paid for by the Communist Bulgarian government, but after training, he went to work for the ultranationalist Turkish organization Grey Wolves. He was approached by the Bulgarian Secret Service and Turkish mafiosi, who offered him three million German marks to assassinate the Pope. The Bulgarian secret services have always protested their alleged involvement and argued that Ağca's story was an anti-Communist plant placed by the Grey Wolves, the Italian secret service, and the CIA.

However when KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin defected to the United Kingdom in 1992, he brought six full trunks of handwritten notes which were secretly made by him during the thirty years in which he served as a KGB archivist in the foreign intelligence service. The "Mitrokhin Archive" confirms the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II was ordered by the Soviet KGB because of his support for Solidarity in Poland. The task was assigned to Bulgarian and East German agents with the Stasi to co-ordinate the operation and cover up the traces afterwards


KGB Director Yuri Andropov was convinced that Pope John Paul II's election was the product of an Anglo-German conspiracy to undermine Soviet hegemony in largely Catholic Poland and ultimately to precipitate the collapse of the entire Soviet Union. The Pope's announcement of a pilgrimage to Warsaw fuelled Andropov's apprehension, with Andropov issuing a secret memorandum to Soviet schoolteachers: The Pope is our enemy.... Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor he is dangerous, because he charms everyone, especially journalists. Besides, he goes for cheap gestures in his relations with the crowd, for instance, [he] puts on a highlander's hat, shakes all hands, kisses children, etc.... It is modeled on American presidential campaigns.... Because of the activities of the Church in Poland our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop.... In this respect all means are allowed and we cannot afford sentiments.


In 1983 Poland's Communist government had unsuccessfully tried to humiliate John Paul II by falsely saying he had fathered an illegitimate child. They drugged Irena Kinaszewska, a secretary of the Kraków-based weekly Catholic magazine where Karol Wojtyła had worked, and unsuccessfully attempted to make her admit to having had sexual relations with him. The pope declared during a May 2002 visit to Bulgaria that the country's Soviet-bloc-era leadership had nothing to do with the assassination attempt. However, his secretary, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, alleged in his book A Life with Karol, that the pope was convinced privately that the former Soviet Union was behind the attack.


Following his shooting, the Pope asked people to "pray for my brother (Ağca), whom I have sincerely forgiven." Two years later the pope and Ağca met and spoke privately at the prison where Ağca was being held. They had a private conversation, and emerged as friends. The Pope was also in touch with Ağca's family over the years, meeting his mother in 1987 and his brother a decade later. On 9 June 1997, Air Malta Flight 830 was hijacked by two men. After landing in Cologne, the hijackers demanded the release of Ağca. He was not released and the hijackers surrendered. After serving almost 20 years of a life sentence in prison in Italy, at the request of Pope John Paul II, Ağca was pardoned by the then Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in June 2000 and deported to Turkey. In 2007, he converted to Roman Catholicism and was released from prison on 18 January 2010. On 27 December 2014, 33 years after his crime, Mehmet Ali Ağca publicly arrived at the Vatican to lay white roses on the recently canonized John Paul II's tomb and said he wanted to meet Pope Francis, a request that was denied. He manifested a desire to become a Catholic priest in 2016 and go to Fatima, Portugal to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Marian apparitions there (Our Lady of Fátima)