The Forgiveness of Pope John Paul II
Those in positions of power often set the standards of behavior for those that look up to them. This has the potential to be destructive, but sometimes, our leaders get it very right.
On May 13th, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot four times by Mehmet Ali Ağca as he crossed St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
Two bullets struck the pope in the stomach, while one struck his right arm, and another, his left index finger. In immense pain, the pope was bundled away by his security team, and despite severe blood loss, the pontiff survived.
When we consider what an act of kindness is, we don’t often think of simple forgiveness. It’s an ephemeral thing—something we can’t see or touch. But forgiveness is, in fact, one of the most profound acts of kindness imaginable.
Even though Ağca—who had recently escaped from a Turkish prison, where he was held on charges of murder—attempted to murder Pope John Paul II, the pope immediately, openly, and, in his own words, “sincerely” forgave the man.
In 1983, John Paul II even went so far as to visit his would-be assassin, engaging the man in a private conversation, befriending him, and staying in touch with his family. In 2000, the pope requested that Ağca be pardoned.
That request was granted, and Ağca was released from his Italian prison, although he was still compelled to serve out the remainder of his Turkish sentence.
After the pope’s visit, Ağca converted to Christianity, and was finally released in 2010, returning to Rome in 2014 to lay two dozen white roses at John Paul II’s tomb.
These simple acts of forgiveness changed the very heart of Ağca, where anger and condemnation might have only hardened him.
Nothing is simultaneously harder and easier than sincere forgiveness. But it is also the most powerful tool we have in the quest for kindness. The changed heart of Mehmet Ali Ağca is a testament to this.