It is little known that the shooting of Pope John Paul II in St Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 by Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Ağca was the second of four known attempts to murder the Slavic pope. The first occurred in his Polish homeland, and the Vatican purposely withheld details of that event from the media to conceal the truth about the Pope’s actions during the war years. John Paul II’s first pilgrimage to Poland as pontiff was in June 1979, just a few months after his elevation to the papacy in October of the previous year, and it exhilarated the Catholic nation, and brought hope and a sense of unity to a society that had been depressed for decades. The Pope spent three days around the area of Jasna Gora at Czestochowa and celebrated mass at the shrine of the Black Madonna. The location of the shrine was the most hallowed ground in Poland, and a newspaper report from Czestochowa at that time claimed that every ‘papal gesture, every deft historical reference, had political connotations in this setting’, because the Black Madonna was the most popular Catholic icon in Poland, with many Polish Catholics making pilgrimages to the site every year.
The bomb in the cloister
Unbeknown to the Pope and his entourage, a bomb had earlier been planted in the cloister of the sanctuary near the image of the Black Madonna, just metres from where the Pope celebrated mass. An attempt to explode the bomb from a nearby car failed after a detonator malfunctioned and prevented an explosive reaction. Some opined that the Soviet Union, for political reasons, was behind the assassination attempt, as Soviet President, Leonid Brezhnev (d. 1982) had openly expressed disapproval of the Pope’s visit to Poland. The Polish government was also implicated because it too opposed the papal visit to Poland, initially refusing the pope permission, but begrudgingly allowed him entry after postponing his journey by one month. During that same trip, the Pope toured the Auschwitz death camps, and some believed that the attempt to kill him in the cloister was in some way associated with his earlier association with the gas chambers at Birkenau where he was employed to sell and supply Zyklon-B gas to the Nazis for use in the killing chambers (‘Behold a Pale Horse’, William Cooper, Light Technology Publishing, 1991, p. 89).
Later in 1979, a regional prosecutor investigated the attempted bombing of the Pope, but no detailed information was ever publicly released. It was never specified who was involved, or how many people were investigated, but it was believed at the time that a group of eight people conspired to assassinate the pope.
(An extract from, ‘Pope John Paul II’s Dark Secrets’, a pre-publication manuscript, from a chapter entitled; ‘The sniper on St. Peter’s dome’)