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The Pope and the Assassin: The Act of Mercy and Forgiveness

John Paul II showed what mercy was not only to the man who tried to kill him, but to the world

Photo by ajayjoseph from unsplash

On May 13th, 1981, Pope John Paul II waved from a white Fiat Campagnola (the popemobile) as it drove through St. Peter’s Square. The crowd reached out to him. Mehmet Ali Agca, an escaped Turkish murderer, raised his gun over the heads of the people in front of him and fired four bullets.

One bullet hit the pope in the stomach; another bullet hit his hand. The other two bullets hit two people in the crowd. Quickly, the gun was knocked out of Agca’s hand by bystanders as they took him to the ground.

The pope was rushed to a hospital. There, he underwent surgery for five hours. Not only Catholics but the world waited in shock.

Whether Agca acted on behalf of the KGB, Islamic extremism, or madness, the intention was all the same. He had tried to kill the pope.

Two years after the assassination attempt, John Paul II, visited the prison cell of Ali Agca. He went to forgive him.

They shook hands and embraced one another. Agca kissed the pope’s ring.

During the winter of 2014, after converting to Christianity, Ali Agca visited the pope’s grave. There, he left white roses and prayed.

That same year, John Paul II would be canonized.

St. John Paul II said, after speaking to his would-be assassin:

“Real peace is not just a matter of structures and mechanisms. It rests above all on the adoption of a style of human coexistence marked by mutual acceptance and a capacity to forgive from the heart. We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of every one of us.”

The last of the Fatima children wrote down the third secret of the Virgin Mary, revealed to her in 1917. It was unveiled in 2000 (exactly 83 years after the start of Fatima and 19 years since the assassination attempt on the pope).

John Paul II can be interpreted as representing “the bishop in white.” The “Martyrs” in the prophecy are what we are called to be, as our souls make “their way to God.”

“I write in obedience to you, my God, who command me to do so through his Excellency the Bishop of Leiria and through your Most Holy Mother and mine. After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” And we saw in an immense light that is God: “something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it,” a bishop dressed in white. “We had the impression that it was the Holy Father.” Other bishops, priests, men and women religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other bishops, priests, men and women religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two angels each with a crystal aspergillum in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.”

Forgiveness is not done to provide satisfaction for oneself. It is a plea for mercy to whom you also sinned against. For each sin is not only an offense to God. It is also done against every other man.

We have sinned against each other, as well as against ourselves. Adam sinned against us; and we sin against Adam.

We must forgive others so that they can forgive us.

“Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Col 3:13)


“You were not ashamed of admitting your crime; why are you ashamed of repentance?


“You are ashamed and afraid!”


“Mortally. Let them look at me, you say; well, and you, how will you look at them?”


“Enough, Father Tikhon.” Stavrogin interrupted him with aversion and rose from his chair.

Tikhon also rose.

“What is the matter with you?” He suddenly exclaimed almost in fear, staring at Tikhon.

Tikhon stood before him, with his hands clasped and a painful convulsion seemed to pass for a moment across his face as if from the greatest fear.

“What’s the matter with you? What’s the matter?” Stravrogin repeated, rushing to him in order to support him. It seemed to him that Tikhon was going to fall.

“I see . . . I see, as if it stood before me,” Tikhon exclaimed in a voice which penetrated the soul and with an expression of the most violent grief,” That you, poor, lost youth, have never been so near another and a still greater crime than you are at this moment.”

An Excerpt from Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky


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