Pope John Paul II was shot and nearly killed on this day in history, May 13, 1981.
During his regularly scheduled Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pope was shot by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Ağca.
Ali Ağca fired a total of four times.
Two bullets hit Pope John Paul II in the abdomen and left hand, and the pontiff immediately collapsed, according to the History Channel.
Two others, a 60-year-old American woman named Ann Odre and a 21-year-old Jamaican woman named Rose Hill, were injured by the other two bullets, the same source also said.
Ali Ağca was quickly arrested.
The pope was rushed to Gemelli Hospital in Rome, undergoing five hours of surgery to save his life, said the History Channel.
“For the first time there is talk of terrorism even in the Vatican,” Vatican Radio reporter Benedetto Nardacci said during his live reporting of the General Audience.
“We are talking about terrorism in a place where a message of love has always been transmitted, a message of harmony and a message of peace,” Nardacci also said, according to Vatican News.
Those messages of love and peace extended even to the pope’s hospital room during his recovery, that outlet noted.
Four days after the assassination attempt, speaking from his hospital bed, Pope John Paul II said he forgave “the brother who struck me.”
Pope John Paul II was released from Gemelli Hospital in August 1981, said Vatican News.
Following his release from the hospital, the Vatican adopted new security protocols to better protect the pope.
Among these reforms included the “popemobile,” a bulletproof-glass enclosed vehicle that would transport the pope through crowds, said Vatican News.
Ali Ağca was sentenced to life in prison in an Italian prison for attempting to murder the pope.
On Dec. 27, 1983, Pope John Paul II met Ali Ağca, forgiving him to his face, reported Vatican News.
“We met as fellow human beings and as brothers,” said Pope John Paul II after the meeting.
“Since we are all brothers and all the events of our lives must confirm the fraternity that comes from the fact that God is our Father,” he also said, as Vatican News reported.
A photo of their encounter was published on the cover of Time magazine, with the headline “Why Forgive?”
Ali Ağca’s motives for the shooting remain murky at best.
On the day of the attempted assassination, Ali Ağca had a handwritten note in his pocket reading, “I am killing the pope as a protest against the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the United States and against the genocide that is being carried out in Salvador and Afghanistan,” said the History Channel.
He later claimed to have been part of a KGB plot, reported the Associated Press.
In June 2000, the Italian government officially pardoned Ali Ağca at the request of Pope John Paul II, reported Reuters.
Ali Ağca was then extradited to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for the 1979 murder of a newspaper editor, that outlet said.
Ali Ağca was released from a Turkish prison in 2010, that outlet noted.
John Paul II credited the Virgin Mary for saving his life, as he was shot on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, said the National Catholic Register.
In a visit to the Shrine of Fatima in Fatima, Portugal, on the first anniversary of the shooting, Pope John Paul II thanked Our Lady for sparing his life, and offered the bullet that nearly killed him as a gesture of thanks.
The bullet was then welded into the crown adorning the statue in an empty space under the crown’s eight arches, said the National Catholic Register.
“The bullet found the perfect fit in the empty space left in 1942 at the union of the eight stems that make up the Queen’s crown,” that outlet also said.
After his brush with death on May 13, 1981, John Paul II would go on to serve nearly 24 more years as pope before dying from complications related to the flu on April 2, 2005.
He was then canonized, or officially declared a saint in the Catholic Church, by Pope Francis, along with his predecessor Pope John XIII, on April 27, 2014.