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Associated Press
A hand holding a pistol, left, aims from the crowd at Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square in Rome, May 13, 1981. Moments later, the pontiff was shot.

On This Day: Gunman Attempts to Assassinate Pope John Paul II

May 13, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On May 13, 1981, the pope was shot and seriously wounded in Rome's St. Peter’s Square by Turkish assailant Mehmet Ali Agca.

Turkish Militant Fired From Crowd

At about 5:00 in the evening, Pope John Paul II was cruising slowly through St. Peter’s Square in an open-roofed vehicle, blessing children held up to his reach. Time magazine called the pope’s familiar ritual “a rite of sweet human communion.”

After one go-around of the square, gunshots were fired from the crowd. “The pope froze in shock for a second, and then slumped to the seat of his jeep,” ABC News reported.

The gunman, 23-year-old Mehmet Ali Agca, ran but was quickly chased down by Vatican plainclothes security guards and members of the crowd. As he was being taken away, he repeated, “I couldn't care less about life.” Police found a note in his pocket that said, “I am killing the Pope as a protest against the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the United States."

Shot in the abdomen, the pope was rushed to Gemelli, a Catholic hospital in Rome reputed to be the best in Italy. During the 20-minute drive, he was “softly murmuring ‘Madonna, Madonna’” in his native Polish.

Doctors performed a five-hour operation to save the pontiff’s life
. He was released two weeks later, and though he was soon re-admitted to due a lung infection, he later recovered without lasting injury.

Biography: Pope John Paul II

Karol Józef Wojtyła was born on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland, a small town outside of Krakow. He enrolled at Jagiellonian University in 1938, but had to put aside his studies a year later when Nazi forces closed the institution. He decided to join the priesthood in 1942 and entered a clandestine seminary, continuing his studies after World War II.

After being ordained in 1946, he graduated with his doctorate in 1948. Wojtyła was elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978. His 27 years as spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church were marked by his outreach to young people and calls for dialogue with other major religions. He died on April 2, 2005.

Mehmet Ali Agca After the Assassination

A member of the paramilitary wing of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Action Party, Mehmet Ali Agca had shot and killed newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci in Istanbul in 1979. He had escaped from a maximum-security prison in late 1979 after threatening to kill John Paul II, whom he called “the masked leader of the Crusades,” Time reported.

Agca served 20 years in an Italian prison. Pope John Paul later forgave himand even visited his would-be assassin in his prison cell. Agca was granted clemency by Italian President Carlo Ciampi in 2000 and extradited to Turkey, where he was sent to do time for his 1979 murder of Ipekci.

Upon Pope John Paul II's death, Agca was said to be in mourning by his brother, Adnan Agca. In September 2006, two months before Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Turkey, Agca sent the current pontiff a letter from prison saying that his “life is in danger” if he came to Turkey. “For your own welfare you must make a grand gesture of honor and resign.”

Agca was briefly freed from prison in 2006, but after public outcry, he was jailed again. He was again released from prison in January 2010. The 52-year-old put out a statement declaring, “I proclaim the end of the world. All the world will be destroyed in this century. Every human being will die in this century. The Gospel is full of mistakes. I will write the perfect Gospel.”

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