Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Shooting of Pope John Paul II

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On this day in 1981, in front of thousands of the faithful in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II was shot and wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish national and Communist with a lengthy criminal record, who was working with another man named Oral Çelik. Çelik later fled the scene without firing a shot or indeed carrying out his part of their plan. Two onlookers - Ann Odre, a retired beautician from Buffalo, and Rose Hill, a 21 year-old Jamaican - were also shot and wounded in the melee. Ağca was later subdued by a nun named Sister Letizia.

The Pope lost nearly three-quarters of his blood following the shooting (despite the bullets having missed any arteries); still, his blood loss nearly killed him. After five hours in surgery at Gemelli Hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Francesco Crucitti, he managed to pull through. He later credited Our Lady of Fatima with helping him to survive.

Two days before Christmas 1983 the pontiff visited Ağca in prison, at which time he declared that he'd forgiven him; even though he'd tried to kill the Pope - who he said was an 'agent of capitalism' - the two forged an unlikely friendship out of the ordeal.

This picture of the assassination attempt was widely transmitted at the time, and is fairly chilling, in that it shows the whole scene: the Pope, the crowd, and at the centre left of the image a hand pointing a gun. Yet it's the angle that's most chilling: How tall was this photographer, and where was he (I assume the photographer was a he) standing when it was taken? There are probably reasonable answers to my questions, but my cynic's eye is often unable to take a coincidence at face value, and finds this all a little stage-managed.

FOOTNOTE: One year less a day later another attempt would be made on the Pope's life, by fanatical nutter named Juan María Fernández y Krohn, who was opposed to the reforms of Vatican II and believed the Pope to be an 'agent of Moscow'. That statement alone ought to have been enough to brand anyone insane; Krohn later tried to kill Albert II of the Belgians and/or Juan Carlos of Spain during the latter's visit to Belgium in 2000.

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