VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Exactly 31 years after St. John Paul II personally forgave him for shooting and trying to assassinate him, Mehmet Ali Agca returned to the Vatican with a bunch of white roses and laid them at the late pope’s tomb.
Ali Agca, who was released from an Italian prison in 2000 and extradited to Turkey where he was jailed for killing a journalist in 1979, phoned the Italian newspaper La Repubblica to announce his presence in St. Peter’s Square Dec. 27.
It was on Dec. 27, 1983, after celebrating Mass in the chapel of Rome’s Rebibbia prison, that Pope John Paul personally forgave him during a 15-minute meeting in a cell. Ali Agca had been sentenced to life in prison for shooting the pope May 13, 1981, during his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, did not issue a statement about Ali Agca’s visit to the late pope’s tomb nor about the Turk’s repeated requests to meet Pope Francis. “He put his flowers on John Paul’s tomb; I think that’s enough,” Father Lombardi told La Repubblica.
The newspaper reported that Ali Agca traveled by “plane, car and foot” from Turkey to Greece, then to Austria, through northern Italy and to Rome. He apparently was not stopped at any of the borders.
Standing in line at the metal detectors to get into St. Peter’s Basilica Dec. 27, a member of the Italian state police recognized him and called the Vatican police. Vatican agents accompanied Ali Agca to St. John Paul’s tomb, but then handed him over to Italian police. The police said he did not have a visa to visit Italy and, La Repubblica reported, he was taken to an immigration center near Rome’s Fiumicino airport and scheduled for deportation back to Turkey Dec. 29.
Ali Agca was released from prison in Turkey in 2010. Over the years, he has claimed to be the second coming of Christ and to have the “real” third secret of Fatima. When nothing came of his request to meet Pope Francis during the pope’s November trip to Turkey, Ali Agca held a news conference and told reporters the current pope’s life was not worth the price of a bullet.
— By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service.