Pope John Paul II died in 2005, but he nearly lost his life in an assassination attempt on this date 25 years ago. On Saturday in Rome the shooting was remembered.
In Saint Peter's Square 25 years ago, Turkish gunman Ali Agca attempted to take the life of Pope John Paul II. Catholics around the world were shocked when they saw pictures of the pope being shot as he was waving to the crowd from his open-top pope-mobile.
In remembrance of that terrible moment, thousands of pilgrims gathered Saturday in Saint Peter's Square to read prayers at the exact place of the attack, which is now marked by a marble plaque on the cobblestone pavement.
John Paul credited the Virgin of Fatima with saving his life. To mark the anniversary, a statue of the Virgin was brought in by helicopter. The crown of the original statue of the Virgin, kept at a shrine in Fatima, Portugal, has one of the bullets removed from the pope's body after the attack.
The Vatican believes the attack was predicted in the "Third Secret of Fatima," a message given many years ago to three Portuguese children when they reported seeing an apparition of the Virgin. May 13, besides being the anniversary of the assassination attempt on the pope, is also the date, according to the three children, that the Virgin Mary first appeared to them in 1917.
At Saint Peter's on Saturday, Pilgrims applauded and waved caps and flags as the Virgin's statue was lowered from the helicopter and then carried in a procession to the spot where Pope John Paul II was shot on May 13, 1981.
After the procession, a Mass was celebrated in Saint Peter's Basilica to commemorate the anniversary. In his homily, Cardinal Camillo Ruini urged pilgrims to pray so that Pope John Paul II may soon be beatified, the first step to sainthood.
The motive behind the attempt on the pope's life remains to this day a mystery. A report by an Italian parliamentary commission concluded earlier this year the Soviet Union was behind the assassination plot.