Pope John Paul II is assisted by aides after being shot in St. Peter’s Square May 13, 1981. CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano

Assassination attempt on St. John Paul II stuns world

  • May 13, 2018

There was worldwide disbelief on May 13, 1981 as word spread that Pope John Paul II had been shot four times in an assassination attempt. The gunman was sentenced to life in prison, but was pardoned in 2000 at the request of John Paul. This is The Catholic Register’s report in the wake of the the attempt on the pontiff’s life, from May 23, 1981:

VATICAN CITY – The attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II May 13 has drawn expressions of shock, horror and dismay from around the world.

The Pope was wounded in the abdomen, arm and hand while he was riding in an open jeep through St. Peter’s Square through a crowd of about 20,000 people.

Following the shooting, in which two women also were injured, the Pope was rushed to Gemelli Policlinico Hospital in Rome for emergency surgery which lasted five hours and 28 minutes.

A surgeon expressed confidence that “the Pontiff will recover soon.”

Police arrested Mehmet Ali Agca. He gave his age as 24 and said he was Turkish. According to sources in New York, Rome and Ankara, Mr. Agea was convicted in the February 1979 killing of Abdi Ipekci, the editor of the independent Turkish daily paper Milliyet.

G. Emmett Cardinal Carter of Toronto told a press conference he had cautioned the Pontiff to take more precautions in his public appearances.

“I’ve lived in terror of this moment,” he said.

The Cardinal suspected that the Pope’s security people would put greater pressure on the Pontiff to be more cautious in the future.

“Whether the Pope will accept it or not I don’t know.”

Cardinal Carter said Pope John Paul is always accessible to people, “and I cannot postulate a position in which the Pope would shut himself away.”

While the assassination attempt may tempt people to despair of the human condition, Cardinal Carter said: “We must not despair of the goodness of men. We must have hope. We must believe that the good element will predominate. We must not allow ourselves to be submerged by this.”

Archbishop Joseph MacNeil of Edmonton, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said his reaction to the assassination attempt was one of “abhorrence for the violence against this man whose deep reverence and respect for human life has been the hallmark of his pontificate.

“With all Canadians, I deplore the escalation of violence in our society that makes innocent persons victims of groups or individuals who feel justified in taking human life in the name of whatever cause.”

Archbishop MacNeil said that the Holy Father himself spoke out against this horror in a telegram to U.S. President Ronald Reagan when the Pontiff said: “I join in denouncing all manifestations of violence and terrorism and every act that violates human dignity in any individual.”

The archbishop, as well as Cardinal Carter, asked Canadians to pray for the Pope.

Masses are scheduled throughout the nation for the speedy recovery of the Pontiff.

In the United States, Archbishop John Roach, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Catholic Conference, said he felt “a profound sense of shock that this Pope of peace has been felled by an assassination attempt.”

From the White House, a spokesman for President Reagan said he was shocked by the shooting and prayed for the Pope.

In Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said his reaction was one of “shock and grief.” He later called the Pope one of “God’s messengers of peace” in a message sent to Msgr. Archille Silvestrini, secretary of the counsel for public affairs for the Church in Rome.

In Poland, the Pope’s homeland, theatres, movies and other entertainments were cancelled May 14 and special Masses were planned. A profound sense of grief gripped the nation.

Polish television devoted its entire half-hour evening news program to coverage of the event and later continued coverage by picking up Italian television and providing voice-over translation.

In other reactions, Queen Elizabeth said she was “horrified and shocked” at the attempted assassination of the Pope.

During the shooting episode in St. Peter’s Square, two women were hit by the gunman’s bullets. A 58-year-old U.S. citizen from Buffalo, N.Y., Ann Odre, was hit in the chest. Dr. Federico Meneghini, who led a surgical team which operated on Mrs. Odre, said her condition was “very serious.” [Ed. note: She later recovered.]

A 21-year-old Jamaican citizen, Rose Hall, was shot in the arm and reported in good condition.

(To explore more from The Catholic Register Archive, go to catholicregister.org/archive.) 

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