Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish man who fired two bullets at point blank range into Pope John Paul II’s body in May 1981, paid a visit to the Pope’s grave on Saturday, laying two bunches of white roses at the site. It was Ali Agca’s first visit to the Vatican since the assassination attempt.
Saturday marked the 31st anniversary of the day that the pontiff came to visit Ali Agca in a Rome prison, telling his shooter that he forgave him for the attempted murder.
During that historic prison meeting, Ali Agca surprised the Pope by asking him why he wasn’t dead. According to the memoirs of John Paul’s personal secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz, Ali Aca said: “I know I was aiming right. I know that the bullet was a killer. So why aren’t you dead?”
Dziwisz said it seemed that Ali Agca, an atheist, clearly thought it was miraculous that the Pope was still alive, and “was terrified by the fact that that there were forces bigger than he was.”
A spokesperson for the Vatican, Father Ciro Benedettini, said that Ali Agca’s visit to John Paul’s tomb lasted several minutes. He explained his visit by simply saying, “I felt the need to make this gesture.”
Agca had been serving a life sentence for the assassination attempt. Upon his release, he was extradited to Turkey, where he served a 10-year sentence for the 1979 killing of a Turkish journalist.
He also said he would have liked to meet with Pope Francis during his recent visit to Turkey, but was unable to.
As he was walking up to Saint Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, Ali Agca was recognized and approached by a journalist from Adnkronos International, who asked him the meaning of his visit. The one-time terrorist said: “I am very happy to be in Saint Peter’s Square, in the place of the miracle and of Christianity. Long live Jesus Christ, the only redeemer of humanity.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome