Pope John Paul II is shot
On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II is shot and seriously wounded while passing through St. Peter’s Square in an open car. The assailant, 23-year-old escaped Turkish murderer Mehmet Ali Agca, fired four shots, one of which hit the pontiff in the abdomen, narrowly missing vital organs, and another that hit the pope's left hand.
A third bullet struck 60-year-old American Ann Odre in the chest, seriously wounding her, and the fourth hit 21-year-old Jamaican Rose Hill in the arm. Agca's weapon was knocked out of his hand by bystanders, and he was detained until his arrest by police. The pope was rushed by ambulance to Rome's Gemelli Hospital, where he underwent more than five hours of surgery and was listed in critical but stable condition. Four days after being shot, the Pope offered forgiveness to his would-be assassin from his hospital bed. The pontiff spent three weeks in the hospital before being released fully recovered from his wounds.
The motives of Mehmet Ali Agca in attempting to kill the head of the Roman Catholic Church were enigmatic, and remain so today. In the 1970s, Agca joined a right-wing Turkish terrorist group known as the Gray Wolves. The group is held responsible for the assassination of hundreds of public officials, labor organizers, journalists, and left-wing activists as part of their mission to clear Turkey of leftist influence. In recent years, it has been revealed that the Gray Wolves had close ties with far-right politicians, intelligence officers, and police commanders. In February 1979, Abdi Ipekci, a liberal newspaper editor, was murdered near his home in Istanbul. Mehmet Ali Agca was arrested and charged with the crime. While awaiting his trial, Agca escaped from a military prison. On May 9, 1981, Agca took a plane from Majorca to Milan and entered Italy under an assumed name. He took a room in a hotel near the Vatican and on May 13th walked into St. Peter's Square and shot the pope with a 9mm Browning automatic. A handwritten note was found in his pocket that read: "I am killing the pope as a protest against the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the United States and against the genocide that is being carried out in Salvador and Afghanistan." He pleaded guilty, saying he acted alone, and in July 1981 was sentenced to life in prison.
In 1982, Agca announced that his assassination attempt was actually part of a conspiracy involving the Bulgarian intelligence services, which was known to act on behalf of the KGB. Pope John Paul II was a fervent anti-communist who supported the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland, which seemed to make him an appropriate target for the communists. In 1983, despite these developments, the pope met with Mehmet in prison and offered him forgiveness. Further interrogations of Agca led to the arrest of three Bulgarians and three Turks, who went on trial in 1985. As the trial opened, the case against the Bulgarian and Turkish defendants collapsed when Agca, the state's key witness, described himself as Jesus Christ and predicted the imminent end of the world. He explained that the Bulgarian scenario was concocted by Western intelligence officials, and that God had in fact led him to shoot John Paul II. The attack, he explained, was "tied to the Third Secret of the Madonna of Fatima." The secrets of Fatima were three messages that Catholic tradition says the Virgin Mary imparted to three Portuguese shepherd children in an apparition in 1917. The first message allegedly predicted World War II, the second the rise (and fall) of the Soviet Union, and the third was still a Vatican secret in 1985. In 1986, the Bulgarian and Turkish defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence.
On May 13, 2000, the 19th anniversary of the attempt on his life, the pope visited Fatima, Portugal. The same day, the Third Secret of Fatima was announced by Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano. Sodano described the secret as a "prophetic vision" in which "a bishop clothed in white...falls to the ground, apparently dead, under a burst of gunfire." The Vatican interpreted this as a prediction of the attempt on John Paul II's life. Mehmet Ali Agca, who had guessed the alleged Fatima-assassination connection in 1985, was pardoned by Italian President Carolo Ciampi on June 14, 2000. Extradited to Turkey, he began serving the eight years remaining on the sentence for his 1979 murder of the Turkish newspaper editor.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: