May 13, 2006

Vatican marks 25 years since John Paul shooting

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican marked the 25th anniversary of
the near-fatal assassination attempt on Pope John Paul on
Saturday, holding a mass to commemorate one of the most
notorious and mysterious crimes of the last century.

Italy's most senior cardinal, Camillo Ruini, was due to
lead the service giving thanks for the life of the late Pontiff
who believed he was spared death by the direct intervention of
the Virgin Mary.

The Vatican has laid a marble plaque on the cobblestone
floor of St. Peter's Square at the exact spot where John Paul
was shot as he traveled in his open-top 'pope-mobile' on May
13, 1981, by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

John Paul said he survived the attack because the Madonna
of Fatima -- a vision of the Virgin who first appeared to
Portuguese children on May 13, 1917 -- intervened to divert the

"By the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, my life was
given back to me," he said of the shooting. Toward the end of
his life, the Pope told a close aide: "One hand shot me and
another hand saved me."

The Vatican also believes that the attack was predicted in
the "Third Secret of Fatima," a message given to the Portuguese
children who saw the Virgin's apparition.

No less mysterious is the motive behind the attack.

Agca, a right-wing gangster, was found guilty of attempted
murder and served several years in an Italian prison before
being deported to Turkey where he is still in jail for the
killing of a newspaper editor in the 1970s and for robbery.

But a report by an Italian parliamentary commission
published in March this year said the assassination attempt was
a plot by the Soviet Union, a claim dismissed by the Russian

At the time of the shooting, events in the Pope's Polish
homeland were starting a domino effect that was eventually to
lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

The Pope was a staunch supporter of Poland's Solidarity
union and most historians agree he played a vital role in
events that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

At a trial in 1986, Italian prosecutors failed to prove
charges that Bulgarian secret services had hired Agca to kill
the Pope on behalf of the Soviet Union.