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Pope Absolves Bulgaria of Assassination Plot - 2002-05-24


Pope John Paul II says he is sure the Bulgarian secret service was not part of a plot to assassinate him. The pope made the comment Friday during a visit to the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

Pope John Paul II cleared Bulgaria of any link to a Turkish gunman who tried to kill him in 1981. The pope's spokesman said the pontiff told Bulgaria's president during a meeting that he "never believed in the so-called Bulgarian connection."

A Turkish man, Mehmet Ali Agca, shot the pope in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican more then 20 years ago. After the incident, the gunman said the Bulgarian secret service hired him to assassinate the pontiff.

Italian authorities later charged three Turks and three Bulgarians with conspiring to kill the pope. But they were acquitted because of the lack of evidence.

The Roman Catholic church leader arrived in Bulgaria Thursday evening for his first visit to the Balkan country.

On Friday, the pope visited an Orthodox Cathedral in Sofia. The visit and a meeting with the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church are designed to overcome long-standing differences between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Similar differences between the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches have prevented the pope from visiting Russia. Russian Orthodox church officials accuse the Catholic church of trying to convert Orthodox believers to Catholicism.

While the pope has yet to visit Russia, he has traveled to many formerly Communist countries such as his native Poland and Romania.

But the constant travel that the pope used to take in stride now appears to be taking a toll on his health. During this five-day trip, in which he also traveled to the Caspian Sea country of Azerbaijan, the pontiff has appeared tired and weak.

While saying mass in Azerbaijan, the pope asked an aide to finish the service, something he has done often in recent months. His speech is often slow and labored. For the first time the pope used a motorized lift to help him get on and off the plane.

Pope John Paul II completes his visit to Bulgaria on Sunday.

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