Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

A determined terrorist and the papal shooting

The worldwide attention paid to the wounding May 13. of Pope John Paul II measures the political and personal influence he has attained in just 2 1/2 years.

Vatican sources say the Pope -- shot by a would-be assassin Wednesday in St. Peter's Square -- is recovering satisfactorily from the bullet wounds.

About these ads

In his brief reign, John Paul has maneuvered adroitly against the men in the Kremlin.

He has helped to inspire the people of his native Poland toward greater freedom from Moscow's rule.

He has become the most traveled Pope in history -- visiting the United States , Latin America, the Philippines, Japan, Ireland, and his native Poland.

The sudden attack at 5:20 p.m. local time in Rome came in a burst of gunfire. Three shots hit the Pope, while others struck two tourists, an American and a Jamaican, at the audience at St. Peter's Square.

No motive was known for the attack. But Turkish sources say that the alleged attacker was a convicted Turkish assassin connected to the neo-fascist National Action Party. The man, identified by police as Mehemed Ali Agca, had threatened to kill the Pope in 1979. After his arrest by plain-clothes police moments after the shooting, he claimed to be Turkish, but later said that he was Armenian, police say. (See below.)

The Pope has repeatedly denounced terrorism and all forms of violence. He was shot while riding around the square in his papal Jeep, greeting a crowd which had assembled there for his public audience.

President Reagan, himself the target of a would-be assassin on March 30, said: "I'll pray for him."

About these ads

Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker said: "I am sure that every member of the Senate joins with me in expressing outrage over that event, and in offering our hopes and prayers for the Pope's recovery."

The attack once again focused attention on John Paul, who was born Karol Wojtyla, son of a worker in a chemical factory in a small town in Poland. He became Pope John Paul II on Oct. 16, 1978.

The original selection of this man from Poland, the first non-Italian pope in 400 years, in itself encouraged the Poles. Since then the very fact that the Pope was a Pole gave them some protection. He has counciled leaders in both farm and labor movements in Poland to avoid going too fast or reaching too far in their move toward independence.

He learned much about dealing with a communist government in his early experiences. He had returned from his studies in Rome in 1948 just as the communists were fastening their grip on his country. His public life since has been largely an exercise in how to keep religion alive and vital within the confinces of the bigotry and intolerance of the communist system.

In the affairs of the Roman Catholic Church, he has been a disappointment to liberal church reformers.

His theology has often harked back to early times in his opposition to abortion, to admitting women to the priesthood, and in his insisting on a celibate clergy.

There are two outstanding figures on the list of Popes in the 20th century. Pope John XXIII modernized the papacy. Pope John Paul II has blended modernization with tradition. Many an earlier pope was merely a political figure, John Paul II widely viewed as more of a religious figure.

Reuters reports that several of the Pope's predecessors have met violent ends or narrowly escaped assassination. Sixteen or 17 other popes have died by poison, the sword, or other unnatural means, bringing the total of violent papal deaths to more than 30. Since Renaissance times, however, the popes have fared better, Reuters notes. Arrest comes quickly

Mehemed Ali Agca, also known as Mehmet Ali Agca, arrested after the assassination attempt, is said by authorities on the Mideast to be a known assassin in Turkey. Harvard Prof. Mustafa Gursel of the Center for Middle East Studies, reports that:

Agca was believed to have killed the editor in chief of the Turkish daily, Milliyet, in February, 1979. Several months later, Agca was captured and brought to trial. Before the trial ended, he escaped from a high security military prison. The evidence at the time showed that he was connected to an extreme right, neo-fascist group, the National Action Party. Evidence also showed that people in the security forces had been paid off and helped with his escape from prison.

When the Pope later visited Turkey, Agca sent letters to newspapers saying he was going to make an attempt on the Pope's life. Security during his visit was very tight, but nothing happened.

It was later learned that Agca had escaped to West Germany.He is claimed to have killed others in Turkey before his escape, but this is the first time he has been heard from since his earlier threat against the Pope.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.