Saturday, December 27, 2014

Heartwarming Story of Forgiveness

Christmas is the season of forgiveness, hope, joy, love, reconciliation and unity.

So what's the most amazing story you ever heard/read at Christmastime that has something to do with these virtues? Mine is always the story of Pope John Paul II, now St. John Paul II, and the man who seriously shot him in 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turkish terrorist.

On May 13, 1981, while Pope John Paul II was driven around St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican city for his public audience, gun fire rung across St. Peter's square, tearing the jolly mood of the crowd and seconds later, the Roman Pontiff, drenched in blood, fell to the arms of his body guards. 

Photo credit: EPA and Daily Mail UK
Pope John Paul II in 1981, fell to the arms of his body guards after 
four bullets lodged on his body

Everyone watched in horror as the pope struggled for his life. While being wheeled to the hospital, he was heard uttering this line "Why they did this to me". 

The authorities easily captured Mehmet Ali Agca because he was stuck in the large crowd and unable to get his way out. According to reports, he had an accomplice that supposed to detonate a bomb at St. Peter's square. But after seeing Agca seized by Vatican's guards, the accomplice panicked and left Vatican without detonating the bomb. 

Agca was still carrying the pistol he used to fire on the pope at close range when he was captured. Then it was discovered, he was a feared Turkish terrorist who had escaped from a Turkish prison where he was serving a life sentence in for killing a journalist.

Photo credit: Associated Press and Daily Mail UK
The Pope, now St. John Paul II, recovered after a five-hour operation.
His full recovery was considered a miracle as some of the wounds he suffered were fatal.
One bullet narrowly missed his heart, the other tore his intestine. 
He was 61 at the time of the assassination attempt

Agca was brought to a jail in Rome. Four bullets lodged on the pope's body. It was a huge miracle that he was able to survive. He was seriously injured and some of the wounds were fatal. One bullet narrowly missed his heart, one passed through his abdomen that tore his intestine. A five-hour surgery was performed to remove the bullets. 

Several weeks later, the pope recovered and went back to Vatican, did his usual job and still seen having his regular jogging routine around the Vatican gardens. He was 61 and had just been in the papacy for less than three years.

It could be the end of the story. But on December 27, 1983, the Pope went to Rome and visited Agca at his prison cell, There, he asked for some privacy to talk affectionately to Agca, hugged him and bestowed forgiveness. No one knew what the pope had said to Agca but the encounter had massively changed the terrorist's life.

It was also revealed that Pope John Paul II reached out to Agca's family in Turkey, visited his mother in 1987 and talked to his brother. 

Photo credit: Associated Press and Daily Mail UK
Pope John Paul II and Ali Agca, then 23, 
during the Pope's visit to  a prison in Rome where the terrorist had been detained

He had served for 19 years in jail for this assassination attempt and the pope intervened for his release. The Italian president at that time relented and deported Agca to Turkey. Agca served another 10 years in a Turkish jail for several crimes he committed -- murder, bank robbery, street gang and destabilization activities. He was finally released in 2010 and became a free man. What followed next was a series of miracle that transformed Ali Agca into a great follower of Jesus, much like St. Paul in the Holy Bible.

No clear reasons why Ali Agca tried to kill Pope John Paul II but speculations later emerged supported by evidences that Soviet-based secret services and Islamic fanatics were behind the assassination attempt, they wanted to see the Pope dead because of his strong campaign for a democratic movement around Europe and some Islamic states.

Partly, Pope John Paul II was the instrument of the collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe.

Following his release, Agca thoroughly deserted Islam and converted to Roman Catholicism. That forgiveness granted to him alone by the great pope had ultimately changed his life.

In 2005, when he heard that the pope was fatally ill, he sent a letter wishing the pope good health. He was seen crying when the pope died in April that year. Agca's family also sent a letter of condolence to the Vatican emphasizing they were in sorrow of the pope's passing because he had been a great friend to them.

Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images and Daily Mail UK
Former Turkish terrorist, Ali Agca, now 56, carried two bouquets of white roses and laid it on top of the tomb of St. John Paul II in Vatican,  this is the first time he visited Vatican since he shot Pope John Paul II in 1981A spokesman from Vatican released a statement that Ali Agca has no legal impediment in Vatican, thus, free to visit the microstate anytime 
but they refused to grant his request to see Pope Francis.

Photo credit: The Telegraph UK
Ali Agca converted to Roman Catholicism and deserted Islam after Pope John Paul II had visited  him in his prison cell in Rome and bestowed forgiveness. After his release in 2010 in a Turkish jail where he was serving for  other crimes he committed before he shot the pope, Agca expressed interest to move to Poland, the home country of the late pope, 
and became a Polish citizen.

Today, December 27, 2014, 31 years after Pope John Paul II visited him in jail, Ali Agca went to Vatican and visited the saint's tomb and laid two bouquets of white roses. Agca was seen shedding tears while carrying the flowers. According to a Vatican spokesman, Agca has no legal impediment in Vatican, thus, free to visit the microstate anytime, however, they refused to grant his request to see Pope Francis.

His statement on this visit "Today I come because on December 27, 1983, I met the pope. A thousand thanks, saint, Long Live Jesus Christ"

Although some reports revealed Agca uttered bizarre statements in the past which questioned his mental condition, like claiming he is a messiah and the world might end soon, it could not be denied that the current life he adopted manifests renewal and reconciliation, that everyone has a chance to be reformed and lived a decent life. That even a notorious criminal can still be transformed into a good citizen, has a right to live and enjoy life like everyone else.

Even the Holy Bible teaches us that Jesus did not come to earth for saints but for sinners. Forgiveness can really make a big difference, it changes lives.


SOURCES:

DAILY MAIL UK.com
BBC.com
TIME.com

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