27 December 2015

Pope John Paul II’s prison visit

Pope came face to face with his would be killer

Pope John Paul II visited Rebibbia prison on the outskirts of Rome on this day in 1983 to forgive formally the man who had tried to assassinate him.
Pope John Paul II survived an assassination attempt in 1981
Pope John Paul II

Two years previously the Pope had been shot and critically wounded in St Peter’s Square by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish member of a fascist group known as Grey Wolves.

John Paul II had been rushed unconscious to hospital with bullet wounds to the abdomen, colon and small intestine and had to have five hours of surgery to repair the damage.

Agca was caught and restrained by bystanders until the police arrived. He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.

John Paul II visited Agca on 27 December 1983 in prison in Rebibbia, a suburb on the north eastern edge of Rome.

They spoke privately for about 20 minutes and afterwards the Pope said he had pardoned his would be killer.

Agca had previously escaped from a Turkish prison where he had been serving a sentence for murdering a journalist. He was deported to Turkey at the end of his jail sentence in Italy and went on to serve another ten years in prison.

On 27 December 2014, 33 years after the shooting, Agca came to the Vatican in Rome to lay white roses on Pope John Paul II’s tomb.

Pope John Paul II had died in April 2005 at the age of 84 in his private rooms in the Vatican.  He had been taken ill in February of the same year and underwent a tracheotomy. He was released from hospital but in late March developed an infection that turned into septic shock, a severe condition from which he never recovered.

St Peter's was the scene of an attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in Rome
The scene of the attempted assassination of
John Paul II in St Peter's Square, Rome

Travel tip:

St Peter’s Square in front of the Basilica was designed by Bernini to provide a large space where the faithful, from all over the world, could gather together. It is filled with pilgrims and visitors to Rome on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and other important occasions when the Pope appears to address the crowd.

Travel tip:

Pope John Paul II’s tomb is on the north side of an area called the Vatican Grottoes, less than 100 feet from the tomb of Saint Peter. The grottoes are beneath the floor of St Peter’s Basilica and house the tombs of many dead popes.


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