EWTN Vatican
Polish Faithful Commemorate Attempted Assassination of St. John Paul II

In this EWTN News Nightly, Magdalena Wolinska Riedi takes us to the very spot in the Vatican where shots were fired 43 years ago on May 13, 1981. Each year on May 13th, a bouquet of red and white flowers mirroring the colors of the Polish flag stands in St. Peter’s Square. Crowds gather to remember the day that a saint was shot, Saint Pope John Paul II.

“The Pope was finishing his second ride around the square when suddenly, among the cheering crowds of believers, all the birds took flight, and John Paul II fell limply into the popemobile,” Magdalena tells us. 

News cameras were rolling as the shots rang out. The pictures flashed around the world. The faithful held their breath.

Polish historian and Vatican expert Wlodzimierz Redxzioch was present and shared his experience with EWTN News Nightly. “It was terrifying,” he said, “because no one knew what actually happened, just a few moments before I approached the middle of St. Peter’s Square, people were talking about the assassination attempt, the news had already spread in some way, I saw crowds of people despairing, crying, others were praying on their knees.”

Everyone present that day in St. Peter’s Square has their own memory of the horrifying aftermath. Luciano Firmani worked in the Vatican for 42 years, serving under five Popes. He was a member of the Vatican Technical staff and lift operator in the Apostolic Palace. 

“Shots rang out,” he recalled, “I thought they were the sound of caps, and just a moment later a popemobile flashed in front of me, the Pope was bleeding heavily, I was totally devastated. Suddenly I noticed a nun in front of me, who was struggling with someone. It was him! The killer. She tried to block him.”

Another long-time Vatican employee, Demetrio Fortunati watched as the Popemobile rendezvoused with an ambulance behind Vatican walls.

“I was gazing,” he remembered, “as the bleeding pope was being laid on the ground after being removed from the Popemobile and then they were carrying him to the ambulance on a stretcher. Suddenly I noticed that the pope amidst all the great confusion was slipping from the stretcher, I jumped over the railing at the printing house in an instant and supported him.” 

Saint John Paul II survived, but it was the beginning of long years of suffering as the assassination attempt left permanent damage to his health.

The events of the day cast an evil shadow over the Vatican, even as Catholics everywhere came together to pray for their wounded Pontiff. Most of all, his fellow Poles who, even 43 years later, still gather in St. Peter's Square.

Adapted by Jacob Stein

The Historical Origins of Veronica's Veil: Inside the Cloth Relic of Jesus' Holy Face Wiped on Calvary
The Popes and the Power and Significance of the Saint Benedict Medal
Pope Francis' Curious Promise: A Television-Free Vow to Our Lady of Mount Carmel
The Three Secrets of Fatima Explained
Archbishop Gänswein on Baltic appointment: Ready for ‘the front’