As he entered St. Peter's Square to address an audience on 13 May 1981, John Paul II was shot and critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Agca, a trained expert Turkish gunman who was a member of the militant fascist group Grey Wolves. The assassin used a Browning 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, striking him in the abdomen and perforating his colon and small intestine multiple times. John Paul II was rushed into the Vatican complex and then to the Gemelli Hospital. En route to the hospital, he lost consciousness. Even though the bullets missed his mesenteric artery and abdominal aorta, he lost nearly three-quarters of his blood. He underwent five hours of surgery to treat his massive blood loss and abdominal wounds. Surgeons performed a colostomy, temporarily rerouting the upper part of the large intestine to let the damaged lower part heal. When he briefly gained consciousness before being operated on, he instructed the doctors not to remove his Brown Scapular during the operation. The pope stated that Our Lady of Fátima helped keep him alive throughout his ordeal.
“Could I forget that the event [Ali Agca's assassination attempt] in St. Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fatima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.”
—Pope John Paul II -Memory & Identity, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005, p.184
Agca was caught and restrained by a nun and other bystanders until police arrived. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Two days after Christmas in 1983, John Paul II visited the prison where his would-be assassin was being held. The two spoke privately for 20 minutes. John Paul II said, "What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.?
On 2 March 2006, an Italian parliamentary commission, the Mitrokhin Commission, set up by Silvio Berlusconi and headed by Forza Italia senator Paolo Guzzanti, concluded that the Soviet Union was behind the attempt on John Paul II's life, in retaliation for the pope's support of Solidarity, the Catholic, pro-democratic Polish workers' movement, a theory which had already been supported by Michael Ledeen and the United States Central Intelligence Agency at the time. The Italian report stated that certain Communist Bulgarian security departments were utilised to prevent the Soviet Union's role from being uncovered. The report stated Soviet military intelligence (Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije)—and not the KGB—was responsible. Russian Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman Boris Labusov called the accusation ‘absurd’.Although the Pope declared during a May 2002 visit to Bulgaria that the country's Soviet bloc-era leadership had nothing to do with the assassination attempt, his secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, alleged in his book A Life with Karol, that the pope was convinced privately that the former Soviet Union was behind the assassination attempt. Bulgaria and Russia disputed the Italian commission's conclusions, pointing out that the Pope denied the Bulgarian connection.
As we passed June 24th, the Solemnity of the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, last month, the day marked 30 years of visitations from the Mother of God in the mountain village of Medjugorje. That is a remarkable reality – 30 years that the Virgin Mary has been reportedly appearing, through continual apparitions, to a group of Croatian visionaries on a daily basis. Since the beginning of the phenomenon in 1981, three of the seers still report experiencing daily apparitions.
Instead of offering a reflection on 30 years of apparitions – by no means a small, nor easy, task – this article hopes to shed light on a little known fact about the Madonna of Medjugorje: on May 13th, 1982, when a second – less known – assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II’s life failed, it was Our Lady of Medjugorje who declared saving his life.
In recent months, various reports from Rome have stressed the connection between John Paul II and Medjugorje; from the fact that John Paul II venerated the Virgin of Civitavecchia statue, a famous statue from Medjugorje that wept tears of blood, to the fact that Mgsr. Slawomir Oder confirmed in his book, Why He is a Saint, that John Paul II loved Medjugorje, calling it “the spiritual center of the world.” The connection between John Paul II and Medjugorje runs even deeper than that. Few people know that the connection may be responsible for saving John Paul II’s life in 1982, one year after the apparitions began.
Almost everyone is familiar with the assassination attempt on John Paul’s life that took place at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City on May 13, 1981, at the hands of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish assassin who shot the Polish pope. But fewer people, including many astute Catholics, know that exactly one year later – on May 13, 1982 – a second assassination attempt on John Paul’s life was orchestrated, this time in Fatima, Portugal, at the hands of a Spanish priest: Fr. Juan María Fernandez y Krohn, a reactionary traditionalist who was ordained by the Society of Saint Pius X, and was opposed to the changes caused by the Second Vatican Council, calling the pope an agent of Communist Moscow and of the Marxist Eastern Bloc. Fernandez y Krohn subsequently left the Roman Catholic priesthood and served three years of a six-year sentence. The ‘ex-priest’ was treated for mental illness and then expelled from Portugal, going on to become a solicitor in Belgium. He was arrested again in July 2000 after climbing over a security barricade at the Royal Palace of Brussels, accusing the visiting Spanish King Juan Carlos of murdering his older brother Alfonso in 1956.
The Pope was in Fatima that day, on pilgrimage, to thank Our Lady for saving his life one year earlier. Yet, what was not widely reported is that on his pilgrimage in Fatima John Paul II was almost killed. Juan Maria Fernandez y Krohn was able to penetrate the crowds and reach the Pope, launching himself on John Paul II with a bayonet and wounding the Pope strongly enough to draw blood. The revelation of this wound was revealed by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s longtime friend and secretary, only decades later in his memoirs. Interestingly, on that same day, on May 13, 1982, when this second assassination attempt on John Paul’s life failed – an attempt that was not as widely known as the previous one – Our Lady of Medjugorje reportedly told the visionaries: "His enemies tried to kill him, but I have protected him." What is also noteworthy is that on that same day, right before the assassination attempt on the Pope’s life, Our Lady asked for special prayers in Medjugorje.
Did the Madonna of Medjugorje intercede to save Pope John Paul II’s life in Fatima, Portugal, in 1982?
It’s a notion that would not contradict John Paul’s own believes on the matter. John Paul, as his longtime friend and confidant, Bishop Pavol Hnilica reported, often referred to Medjugorje as the continuation of Fatima. According to Bishop Hnilica, a meeting took place between himself and Pope John Paul II over lunch at the Pope's summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, in 1984, wherein John Paul explained: “Medjugorje is a continuation, an extension of Fatima.”
It is well known that the Polish Pope credited Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life on May 13, 1981 in St. Peter’s Square. If Medjugorje, as the Pope proclaimed, is a continuation and extension of Fatima, then it would not be surprising that Our Lady stepped in again, a year later, to save her beloved Pope’s life, making clear in Medjugorje that she has (again) protected him.
So much has been written about Medjugorje that, in reflecting on the 30th year anniversary, a question arises: is there anything new to say about Medjugorje? The apparitions continue. Millions of pilgrims continue to flock to the village increasingly, strengthening and renewing their faith in God. The Church continues its international Vatican commission investigating the apparitions. The visionaries continue humbly and tirelessly accepting pilgrims into their homes and testifying to the messages of the Madonna. More and more reports come out of Rome emphasizing the connection between Pope John Paul II and Medjugorje. One of those reports stressed that in the Vatican Pope John Paul II was known, by nickname, as the “Protector of Medjugorje.” Apparently, that protective relationship was a mutual one between the Pope and the Madonna of Medjugorje.
Pope John Paul II was one of the targets of the Al-Qaeda-funded Operation Bojinka during a visit to the Philippines in 1995. The first plan was to kill Pope John Paul II when he visited the Philippines during the World Youth Day 1995 celebrations. On 15 January 1995, a suicide bomber would dress up as a priest, while John Paul II passed in his motorcade on his way to the San Carlos Seminary in Makati City. The assassin planned to get close to the Pope, and detonate the bomb. The planned assassination of the Pope was intended to divert attention from the next phase of the operation. However, a chemical fire inadvertently started by the would-be assassins alerted police to their whereabouts, and they were arrested nearly a week before the Pope's visit.