Pope John Paul II, elected to succeed Pope John Paul I, assumed the position of Pope on Monday, October 16, 1978. He nearly lost his life when a would-be assassin fired from a crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Learn more about the shooting which happened on May 13,1981 and the surprising events that took place afterwards.
Pope John Paul II Elected
Born Karol Józef Wojtyła to Polish parents on May 18, 1920, he served as a priest from 1946 until appointed bishop in 1958. He became Cardinal Wojtyła in 1967.
After the death of Pope John Paul I just 33 days into his papacy, the second conclave of 1978 met to elect another pope. The final selection to name a successor did not come easy. According to History Today, “The conclave lasted through three days and eight ballots.”
After it became clear that neither favorite, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, archbishop of Genoa, nor Cardinal Giovanni Benelli would likely receive the required two-thirds majority vote, electors voted to elect Cardinal Wojtyła as the next pope.
Shooting Of The Pope Of “Firsts”
John Paul II was the first Polish Pope and the first non-Italian Pope in 456 years. CNN points to some of his other firsts:
- The first pope to visit Cuba
- The first pope to visit the White House
- First, modern-day Pope to visit a synagogue
- Canonized more saints than any other pope in history
Pope John Paul II made his way through the crowds in his “Popemobile” as part of his weekly audience, in front of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square at Vatican City. May 13, 1981, was no exception. CBS News shows the video, with Pope John Paul II waving and stopping to kiss a baby. Suddenly, the Popemobile raced through the crowd. After seeing blood on Pope John Paul II, people began crying and praying.
The BBC gave a follow-up report, stating that a would-be assassin shot Pope John Paul II four times. The Pope endured a five-hour operation to repair damage caused by two bullets that struck him in the stomach, another in his right arm and the fourth to his little finger.
Shortly after the shooting, Vatican Radio asked people to pray that the Pope would survive. World leaders expressed their shock and disbelief at the attempted assassination. Two other people sustained injuries, including an American woman, who suffered a bullet wound to the chest. The gunman shot a woman from Jamaica in the arm.
In spite of the attempt on his life, Pope John Paul II announced that he forgave the man who shot him.
Surprising Turn Of Events
Authorities quickly took a man from Turkey into custody. Identified as 23-year-old Mehmet Ali Agca, the shooter escaped from a prison in Turkey where he was imprisoned for murder.It has been noted that he carried a rambling letter in his pocket stating his intent to kill Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II prayed quietly in Polish on his way to the hospital. He also forgave the man who shot him. The Christian Post reported that Pope John Paul visited Mehmet Ali Agca in prison, and told Agca that he forgave him.
The Pope advocated for a pardon for Arga, which authorities granted. Deported back to Turkey, he began serving his earlier sentence.
In another twist, Mehmet Ali Agca secretly made his way back to Italy and laid white roses at the tomb of Pope John Paul II, who died April 2, 2005. Italian officials refused his request to visit Pope Francis and deported him back to Turkey, forbidding Mehmet Ali Agca from returning to Italy.
In May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI waived the wait period review for beatification and canonization. Pope John Paul II was canonized a saint on April 27, 2014.