Forty years ago, on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II stepped into his vehicle to ride through St. Peter’s Square and greet an ecstatic crowd. It was a lovely Wednesday in Rome and a special day spiritually: It was the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima.
There that day was a Muslim Turk named Mehmet Ali Agca. He had a job to do, and he wasn’t working alone. He would later name seven accomplices, all conspiring under a plan conceived by the Bulgarian secret services, one of the communist world’s most restrictive intelligence services and the one most subject to Moscow’s control. The Bulgarian communists were stooges to the Soviet KGB and its military intelligence counterpart, the GRU.
On the morning of May 13, Agca and his collaborators drove to the Vatican. The driver was a Bulgarian named Zelio Vasilev. He gave instructions to Agca and his Turkish friend, Oral Celik, telling them that Sergei Antonov, another Bulgarian conspirator, would help them escape after they finished their bloody assignment. Antonov, according to the plan, would whisk away the assassins to a large delivery truck concealed as a Bulgarian household-goods company. With that, at 10am, the Bulgarians drove off, leaving the Turks to do their dirty work.
The Turks would wait quite a while. At 3pm, Antonov reconnected with Agca and Celik in the Piazza della Repubblica. He was driving a blue sports car. With him was another Bulgarian, Todor Aivazov. They handed the Turks two packages, one with a 9mm Browning handgun and the other with a diversion bomb to scatter the crowd after the shooting.
The crime would still wait another couple of hours. As they waited longer still, the Polish Pontiff at last began to move assuredly along in his white Fiat “popemobile,” waving to the excited gathering, grabbing hands and giving kisses, lifting children in his arms.
As John Paul II drew closer, the 23-year-old Agca anxiously clutched his concealed 9mm semi-automatic. It was now past 5pm as the Pontiff finally approached within a few yards of Agca.
His vehicle passed the ancient obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square, where Peter himself two millennia earlier would have passed on his way to his martyrdom at the hands of the enemies of the Church.
As the Pope edged closer toward a similar fate in the square, the Turkish national lifted his pistol above those between him and the man in the white robe.
He squeezed the trigger four times. Two of his shots hit the Pope, who immediately slunk down into the arms of his Polish aide, Father Stanisław Dziwisz.
“Are you hit?” the stunned secretary asked his fallen friend.
“Yes,” responded the Pope.
“Where?” Father Dziwisz asked.
“In the stomach,” the Pope replied.
The time on the clock, according to John Paul II biographer George Weigel, was 5:13pm. Thus, the numbers on the clock were in perfect harmony with the numbers on the calendar, which, again, was 5/13, the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima.
“Mary, my mother; Mary, my mother,” repeated John Paul II, the Totus Tuus Pope who had lost his earthly mother as a child.
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