Pope was shot 4 times by assassin – then performed incredible act of forgiveness

Forty one years ago, on May 13, 1981, thousands of people gathered in St Peter's Square, Rome, to see Pope John Paul II – but nobody could've predicted what happened next.

Vatican officials were apparently worried for the Pope's safety due to his frequent appearances in front of large, excited crowds all over the world.

And at around 5.15pm local time their worst fears came true.

He was shot four times at close range as he blessed his followers in Rome.

Joy quickly turned to horror, with screams from some 20,000 worshippers after the beloved figure was hit twice in the chest, once in his right arm and once in his little finger from 15ft away.

His Popemobile sped off into the Vatican Complex from where he was taken to hospital.

After a five-hour surgery, and prayers sent by millions of worshippers, the Pope miraculously recovered two weeks later.

And then, something even more shocking happened – he forgave his attacker in the truest of Christian tradition.

Mehmet Ali Hagca, a Turkish citizen who had escaped from prison in 1979, was named as the would-be killer.

What people didn't know was that he had been planning the hit for some time.

Upon Hagca's escape from prison, where he was jailed for the murder of Turkish journalist Abdi Ipecki, he had left behind a note promising to kill John Paul II just before he visited Turkey in 1979.

The would-be assassin then met with three accomplices in Rome, having caught the train to the capital from Milan on May 10, 1981, according to his testimony.

They sat in St Peter's Square writing postcards on May 13, but when Pope John Paul II arrived, standing in the back of an open-air car, Ağca drew out a 9mm Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol and took aim at the pontiff.

Flanked by security guards, the Pope immediately lost colour in his face and slumped into the arms of his aides, while the sound of bells and cheers turned into screams from thousands of horrified onlookers.

The pontiff, critically injured and suffering severe blood loss, lost consciousness as the driver raced to get him to the Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic hospital.

Upon his arrest, the 23-year-old reportedly repeated: "I couldn't care less about life."

Yet, after being visited by John Paul while in prison and handed a pardon by the Italian president in 2000 at the behest of the Pope, he now calls John Paul his 'brother.'

The Pope was released from hospital two weeks later but was re-admitted on 21 June with a lung infection.

He eventually made a full recovery and went on to visit 50 countries in the first decade of his pontificate.

Mehmet Ali Hagca was sentenced to life imprisonment in July 1981 for the shooting and, despite his 2000 pardon, would be re-arrested and forced to serve the rest of his sentence for killing the journalist in 1979.

He was eventually released in January 2006.

Formerly Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Poland, Pope John Paul II became Pope in 1978 – the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

He died on Saturday, April 2, 2005, after he failed to recover from a throat operation due to breathing problems.

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