In the English weekly magazines “Time” and “Newsweek”, in the issues of 25 May 1981, we find extensive reports on the assassination attempt on John Paul II, which took place during the Wednesday audience on 13 May, forty-one years ago. The editors gathered the accounts of witnesses, analysed the course of the event and provided their texts with meaningful photographs and valuable commentaries. “Time” entitled its text “Hand of the Terroris. A Pope of Peace Falls Victim to a Vengeful Gunman”, while “Newsweek” gave the title: “Again, the Shadow of a Gunman”. Looking through these accounts we learn many details of the assassination attempt.
It was Wednesday, 13 May 1981
On that day, the audience began three minutes before 5 p.m. It was sunny day, the temperature was 19 °C. The car carrying the Pope was completing the second lap of St Peter’s Square, where about 10,000 pilgrims had gathered. Shots were fired at 5.19 p.m., near the colonnade. John Paul II handed over to her parents the little girl with curly blond hair he had been holding in his arms, and held out his hands to greet a woman in a white dress. At that moment shots were fired. Reports state that there were three or four gun shots.
One pilgrim tells how he saw blood on the papal cassock and the figure of the Holy Father removing himself. Francesco Pasanisi, general inspector of the Vatican police, jumped into the papamobile. He reports: “There was a trail of blood, at first small, like a rose flower, but it quickly began to grow”. Pasanisi shouted to the driver, “drive away, drive away!” supporting the Pope, along with Fr Dziwisz. The policeman’s hands were wet with blood, he feared for the Holy Father’s life. And John Paul II said to him: “thank you, thank you, have courage, courage”. Pasanisi explained to a reporter: “Imagine, it was he at this moment telling me to be calm and courageous…”.
People remained in the square in front of the basilica sunk in prayer for the pope’s life. At around 6.20 p.m., Fr Justin Rigali from the Secretary of State stepped up to the microphone and gave the first reassuring news from the hospital…
While the attack was taking place in Rome, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of State of the Holy See, had just landed in New York. Having been informed of the event, he did not leave the airport, but took the first plane back to Rome.
There are other similar details in these reports.
Is it dangerous to be too good?
“The man who shot Pope John Paul II last week carried terrorism into a new territory of outrage. It seemed to much of the world that he had shattered a taboo that even assassins should observe”, comments the journalist Lance Morrow. The assassination of the peace-preaching pope was beyond people’s comprehension. “It’s like shooting at God”, the weekly quoted an anonymous pilgrim as saying.
Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau commented on the attack: “One must wonder whether our world has become so barbaric that it is incapable of respecting the lives of God’s own messengers of peace”. The journalist recalls the fatal assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the words of George Bernard Show. “It was hardly the first time it had happened, of course. After a militant Hindu nationalist shot down Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, George Bernard Shaw commented: ‘It shows how dangerous it is to be too good”.
Lance Morrow added as well this commentary which is worthy to quote: “Every terrorist dreams of squeezing just the right nerve in the neck of civilization, of getting the ‘sweet spot’, of hitting it big, […]. Agca appeared also to be what Joseph Conrad called one of those ‘unwholesome looking little moral agents of destruction’ that now form a recognizable tribe: odd human blanks with politics one centimeter deep and no Dostoyevskian depths at all; well-dressed young men who move around the democratic world on jet planes with forged passports, flipping through small-arms catalogues. That tribe seems to be getting denser and more dangerous. Or at least that is what Agca last week wanted the world to think”.
The weekly newspapers “Time” and “Newsweek” often ask the question that John Paul II also repeated on his way to the hospital: “Why did they do it?” Today we know much more about the causes of the assassination attempt than was known at the time. We know about some aspects, thanks to publications such as “Agca was not alone. Around the participation of the communist special services in the assassination attempt on John Paul II”, which is a compilation of the results of the investigation conducted by the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland. However, we do not know everything. Will the full truth about the assassination attempt ever be unveiled and presented?