It is 11:17 AM, May 13, 1981. I am searching through a clothing rack at the Cape Cod Hospital Thrift Shop. Here I am, three days before my wedding, and I still have not picked out my trousseau. Problems. Problems. Clothes hangers click together as I urgently sort through racks. Ah yes, these shirts will do. I enter the fitting room, hopeful that my shopping trip is almost over. I close the curtain behind me. As I study myself in the mirror, I hear loud voices coming from shoppers.
“Did you hear the news? The Pope has been shot!” exclaimed one.
“Is he dead?” asked another.
My mind begins to race. What? The Pope has been shot? Can’t be! I am getting married in three days!
I stuff my selections into a shopping cart and make for the check-out counter. My brain fogs over. Get a grip, girl, I say to myself. Focus on your wedding day. Let the rest of the world worry about John Paul II.
I have had many foolish thoughts in my day, but that has to be the granddaddy of them all. No one could escape this momentous news event. Headlines were in large print: “Pope is Shot! Surgeons term condition ‘Guarded’. Turk, an Escaped Murderer, Seized.” It is the top story on all major news networks.
My sister calls me on the telephone. “If the Pope dies, will you have to cancel your wedding?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” I stammer.
That night I become absorbed in the news reports. I see Pope John Paul II riding through St. Peter’s Square waving at the throng. It is a sunny day and he smiles, often stopping to wave and bless children. Unknown to security, a black-haired man in a blue jacket worms his way through the crowd until he is ten feet from the Pope. He is not a pilgrim. He is Mehmet Ali Agca: a contract killer, highly skilled in his trade.
Agca puts his finger on the trigger. Unexpectedly, John Paul II leans over and picks up an 18-month old child. The assassin pauses, waiting for the little girl to be handed back to her parent. Agca aims at the pope’s stomach and pulls the trigger twice. John Paul II slumps into the arms of his aide. Immediately, blood seeps onto his white cassock. He is transferred to an ambulance and they speed off to a nearby hospital. As Pope John Paul II loses massive amounts of blood, he prays, “Mary! My Mother! My Mother!” He slips into unconsciousness. By all reckoning, he is near death.
All over the world, prayer vigils begin in churches, private homes, and in St. Peter’s Square. Thousands gather to pray at Market Square in Krakow, Poland. I am sorry to report that I did not join in the vigil. In fact, it never occurred to me. I was way too busy. Honestly, I did not believe that my prayers could make a difference. I was clueless on Cape Cod.
In surgery, doctors discover blood everywhere: six pints, to be exact. The Pope’s colon is perforated and five wounds have torn at his intestines. As surgeons track the bullet path, a miracle becomes evident. It missed the abdominal artery by a fraction of an inch. If such an injury had occurred, the Pope would have bled to death within minutes. The bullet had zigzagged through his stomach, missing the spine, nerve clusters, and major blood vessels.
Agca’s bullet struck the Pope’s finger, breaking it before the bullet exited his body and he fell to the floor of the Popemobile. John Paul II was near death. Thousands prayed. Back at St. Peter’s Square, shocked pilgrims who had traveled from Poland picked up a banner displaying the Black Madonna. An inscription on the back read, May Our Lady protect the Holy Father from evil.
Within days, headlines offered good news: The Pope was expected to recover. Months later, John Paul II attributed his recovery to the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima. He stated, “One hand fired, and another guided the bullet.”
What would have happened to the world if Pope John Paul II had died that day? Look at this list of historical events that probably would not have happened.
*John Paul II is recognized as helping end Communist rule in Eastern Europe
* He significantly improved relations with other world religions.
* He upheld church teaching on contraception, ordination of women, and celibate clergy.
* He authorized publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
One year after the assassination attempt, John Paul II traveled to Portugal to place the assassin’s bullet in the crown of Our Lady of Fatima, thus publicly acknowledging her intercession and the millions of those who prayed for him.
Copyright 2019 Kathryn Swegart