On May 13, 1981 a would-be Turkish assassin entered St Peter's square with one thing in mind: kill the pope. He nearly succeeded. As John Paul II passed Mehmet Ali Agca the Turk pulled his revolver and opened fire, hitting the pope four times. As the pope's vehicle sped off toward the hospital with the pope bleeding badly Agca was subdued by the Chief of Vatican Security, a nun and some spectators. He would later claim that he was only one of a team of men who'd been assigned the job of killing the pope by a shadowy Bulgarian mafia type. Later evidence would back up that theory and add the claim (never definitively proven) that the Bulgarians were working on behalf of the Soviets, and in particular Yuri Andropov, to whom John Paul's popularity in eastern Europe had become a major problem.

After recovering the pope publicly forgave Agca and in 1983 visited him in jail. The two men actually developed a tenuous friendship and in 2000 Agca was pardoned by the Italian government at the urging of the pope and returned to Turkey. Upon his arrival in Turkey Agca was imprisoned for a 1979 murder but, after several fits and starts, was ultimately released on January 18, 2010.

Mehmet Ali Agca raises his gun to fire (circle).