Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pope John Paul II: new book - extracts and an article

God saved me from the assassin's bullet

In a remarkable new book Pope John Paul II describes for the first time how close he came to death at the hands of a gunman and says he was saved by divine intervention

The Times 23 February 2005

POPE JOHN PAUL II has played a leading role in the history of the modern world. This extract from his new book offers an assessment of current affairs at the dawn of a millennium.
In writing this book, the Pope returned to the main themes of his conversations in 1993 with two Polish philosophers, Jozef Tischner and Krzysztof Michalski, founders of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. Those conversations were recorded and transcribed. They address themes crucial for the destiny of mankind.
The final conversation took place in the small dining room of the Papal Palace at Castel Gandolfo, Italy. (Our cover photograph shows the Pope sitting in the garden.) His secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, also took part.
What was the significance of the assassination attempt in 1981?
John Paul II: It was all a testimony to divine grace. Mehmet Ali Agca knew how to shoot, and he certainly shot to kill. Yet it was as if someone was guiding and deflecting that bullet.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: Agca shot to kill. That shot should have been fatal. The bullet passed through the Holy Father’s body, wounding him in the stomach, the right elbow and the left index finger. Then the bullet fell between the Pope and me. I heard two more shots, and two people standing near us were wounded. I asked the Holy Father: “Where?” He replied: “In the stomach.” “Does it hurt?” “It does.” There was no doctor within reach. There was no time to think. We immediately carried the Holy Father into an ambulance and set off at great speed towards the Gemelli hospital. The Holy Father was praying sotto voce. Then, during the journey, he lost consciousness. A number of factors would determine whether or not he survived, for example the question of time, the time it took us to reach the hospital: a few more minutes, some obstruction along the way, and it would have been too late. In all this, the hand of God is visible. Everything points towards it.
John Paul II: Yes, I remember that journey to the hospital. For a short time I remained conscious. I had a sense that I would survive. I was in pain, and this was a reason to be afraid — but I had a strange trust. I said to Father Stanislaw that I had forgiven my assailant. What happened at the hospital, I do not remember.
Stanislaw Dziwsz: Almost immediately after we arrived at the hospital, the Holy Father was taken into the operating theatre. The situation was very grave. The Holy Father had lost a great deal of blood. His blood pressure was falling dramatically, his pulse barely registered. The doctors suggested that I administer the Sacrament of the Sick. I did so at once.
John Paul II: I was already practically on the other side.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: Then he was given a blood transfusion.
John Paul II: That transfusion gave rise to further complications and delays in the whole process of recovery.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: The first blood was rejected, but there were doctors in the hospital who gave their own blood to the Holy Father. This second transfusion went well. The doctors who performed the operation did not expect the patient to survive. They paid no attention at all, understandably, to the finger which had been wounded by the bullet. “If he survives, we can do something about that later,” they said to me. As it happened, the wounded finger healed by itself, without any treatment. After the operation, the Holy Father was transferred to a recovery room. The doctors were afraid of infection, which in such a situation could have been lethal. Some of the Holy Father’s internal organs were damaged. The operation had been very difficult. As it happened, everything healed perfectly, without the slightest complication, even though such complex operations frequently do lead to problems.
John Paul II: In Rome a dying Pope, in Poland mourning . . . In Cracow the university students organised a demonstration: the “white march”.
Footnote: This is a reference to the procession held at Cracow on the Sunday following the attempted assassination. Tens of thousands of students and citizens took part, all dressed in white, to symbolise their opposition to the darkness of evil and violence. When I went to Poland, I said: “I have come to thank you for the ‘white march’.” I also went to Fatima, to thank Our Lady. O dear Lord! It was a hard experience. I didn’t wake up until the following day, towards noon. And I said to Father Stanislaw: “Yesterday I didn’t say Compline.”
Stanislaw Dziwisz: To be precise, Holy Father, you asked me: “Have I said Compline?” You thought it was still the previous day.
John Paul II: I knew nothing of what Fr Stanislaw knew. They hadn’t told me how serious the situation was. Besides, I was simply unconscious for quite some time. When I awoke, my morale was reasonably good. At least initially.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: The next three days were awful. The Holy Father suffered greatly. He had tubes and cuts everywhere. Nevertheless, his recovery was quite fast. At the beginning of June, he returned home. He wasn’t even required to observe a special diet.
John Paul II: As you see, I have quite a strong constitution.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: At a later stage, though, his system was attacked by a dangerous virus as a consequence of the first blood transfusion, or his general debilitatation. The Holy Father had been given an enormous quantity of antibiotics to protect him against infection. This significantly weakened his natural immune system. That was how a further illness could develop. He was returned to hospital. Thanks to intensive medical treatment, his state of health improved to the point where the doctors decided they could proceed to a further operation to complete the surgery carried out on the day of the attack. The Holy Father chose August 5 for this, the feast of Our Lady of the Snows, which is kept in the liturgical calendar as the Dedication of the Basilica of St Mary Major.
This second phase of treatment was equally successful. On August 13, three months after the attack, the doctors issued a medical bulletin to say that the hospital treatment had been concluded. The patient was definitively discharged from hospital.
Five months after the attack, the Holy Father returned to St Peter’s Square to meet the faithful once again. He showed not a trace of fear, nor even of stress, although the doctors had warned that this was a possibility. He said on that occasion: “Again I have become indebted to the Blessed Virgin and to all the Patron Saints. Could I forget that the event in St Peter’s Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over 60 years at Fatima in Portugal? For, in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.
John Paul II: Around Christmas 1983 I visited my attacker in prison. We spoke at length. Ali Agca, as everyone knows, was a professional assassin. This means that the attack was not his own initiative, it was someone else’s idea, someone else had commissioned him to carry it out. In the course of our conversation it became clear that Ali Agca was still wondering how the attempted assassination could possibly have failed. He had planned it meticulously, attending to every tiny detail. And yet his intended victim had escaped death. How could this have happened?
The interesting thing was that his perplexity had led him to the religious question. He wanted to know about the secret of Fatima, and what the secret actually was. This was his principal concern; more than anything else, he wanted to know this. Perhaps those insistent questions showed that he had grasped something really important. Ali Agca had probably sensed that over and above his own power, over and above the power of shooting and killing, there was a higher power. He then began to look for it. I hope and pray that he found it.
Stanislaw Dziwisz: I would describe the Holy Father’s miraculous return to life and health as a gift from heaven. The attempted assassination, humanly speaking, has remained a mystery. Neither the trial nor the attacker’s long imprisonment has clarified it. I witnessed the Holy Father’s visit to Ali Agca in prison. The Pope had already forgiven him publicly in his first speech after the attack. On the prisoner’s part I did not hear the words: “I ask forgiveness.” He was only interested in the secret of Fatima. The Holy Father received the attacker’s mother and family on several occasions, and often inquired after him of the prison chaplains. On the spiritual level, the mystery consists in the whole dramatic sequence of events, which weakened the health and strength of the Holy Father, but did not in any way impair the effectiveness and fruitfulness of his apostolic ministry in the Church and in the world. I do not consider it an exaggeration to apply in this case the famous saying: Sanguis martyrum semen christianorum — “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” Perhaps there was a need for that blood to be spilled in St Peter’s Square, on the site of the martyrdom of the early Christians.
Without doubt, the first fruit of that blood was the union of the entire Church in prayer for the Pope’s survival. Throughout the night following the attack, pilgrims who had come for the General Audience and an ever- increasing number of local people prayed in St Peter’s Square. In the following days, in cathedrals, in churches and in chapels all over the world, Mass was celebrated and prayers were offered for the Pope’s intentions.
John Paul II: I am constantly aware that in everything I say and do in fulfilment of my vocation, my mission, my ministry, what happens is not just my own initiative. I know that it is not I alone who act in what I do as the Successor of Peter. The sense of being an “unworthy servant” is growing in me in the midst of all that happens around me — and I think I feel at ease with this.
Let us return to the assassination attempt: I think it was one of the final convulsions of the arrogant ideologies unleashed during the 20th century. Both Fascism and Nazism eliminated people. So did communism. Here in Italy, the practice of elimination took on a new form, justifying itself by similar arguments: the Red Brigades killed innocent and honest men.
In recent years the world has seen the rise of “terror networks” that place the lives of millions of innocent people under constant threat. Striking confirmation of this was provided by the destruction of the twin towers in New York (September 11, 2001), the bomb blast in Atocha station in Madrid (March 11, 2004) and the slaughter at Beslan in North Ossetia (September 3, 2004). Where are these new eruptions of violence leading?
The demise first of Nazism and then of the Soviet Union signalled a failure. It revealed the utter absurdity of the large-scale violence that formed part of the theory and practice of those systems. Will we be able to learn from the dramatic lessons of history? Or will we be prey once more to the passions at work in the human spirit, yielding yet again to the evil promptings of violence?
Believers know that the presence of evil is always accompanied by the presence of good, by grace. As St Paul wrote: “The free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many” (Romans v, 15).
These words retain their relevance today. Redemption is ongoing. Where evil grows, there the hope for good also grows. In our times evil has grown disproportionately, operating through perverted systems which have practised violence and elimination on a vast scale. I am not speaking here of evil committed by individuals for personal motives or through individual initiatives. The evil of the 20th century was not a small-scale evil, it was not simply “homemade”. It was an evil of gigantic proportions, an evil which availed itself of state structures in order to accomplish its wicked work, an evil built up into a system.
All human suffering, all pain, all infirmity contains within itself a promise of salvation, a promise of joy: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake,” writes Paul (St Colossians i, 24). This applies to all forms of suffering, called forth by evil. It applies to that enormous social and political evil which divides and torments the world today: the evil of war, the evil of oppression afflicting individuals and peoples, the evil of social injustice, of human dignity trodden underfoot, of racial and religious discrimination, the evil of violence, terrorism, the arms race — all this evil is present in the world partly so as to awaken our love, our self-gift in generous and disinterested service to those visited by suffering.
In the love that pours forth from the heart of Christ, we find hope for the future of the world. Christ has redeemed the world: “By his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah. liii, 5).
“A CERTAIN concept of freedom, which has widespread support in public opinion at present, diverts attention from ethical responsibilities. Appeal is made today to freedom alone. It is often said: what matters is to be free, released from all constraint and limitation, so as to operate according to private judgment, which in reality is often pure caprice. This much is clear: such liberalism can only be described as primitive. Its influence, however, is potentially devastating.”

Other Extracts:

On Abortion

“IF MAN can decide by himself, without God, what is good and what is bad, he can also determine that a group of people is to be eliminated. Decisions of this kind were taken, for example by those who came to power in the Third Reich by democratic means, and then used their power to implement the wicked programmes of National Socialist ideology based on racist principles.
“Similar decisions were also taken by the Commmunist Party in the Soviet Union and the countries subject to Marxist ideology. This was the context for the exterminations of the Jews, and also of other groups, for example Romany peoples, Ukrainian peasants, Orthodox and Catholic clergy in Russia, in Byeloruss and beyond the Urals.
“At this point we cannot remain silent regarding a tragic question that is more pressing today than ever.
“The fall of the regimes built on “ideologies of evil” put an end to the forms of extermination just mentioned in the countries concerned. However, there remains the legal extermination of human beings conceived but unborn. And in this case, that extermination is decreed by democratically elected parliaments, which invoke the notion of civil progress for society and all humanity.
“Nor are other grave violations of God’s law lacking. I am thinking, for example, of the strong pressure from the European Parliament to recognise homosexual unions as an alternative type of family, with the right to adopt children. It is legitimate and even necessary to ask whether this is not the work of another “ideology of evil” — more subtle and hidden, perhaps, intent on exploiting human rights themselves against man and against the family.”

On Eastern and Western Europe

IT SEEMS to me that the most important contribution the countries of Central and Eastern Europe can offer is to defend their identity. These nations have preserved their identity and even consolidated it, despite all that was imposed upn them by the communist dictators. For them, a fight to preserve national identity was a fight for survival.
“Today the two parts of Europe — East and West — are coming closer together. This phenomenon, positive in itself, is not without risk. The principle danger facing Eastern Europe today seems to me to be the weakening of its identity. During the struggle against Marxist totalitarianism, that part of Europe went through a process of spiritual maturation, thanks to which certain values essential for human life have not declined there as much as in the West. In Eastern Europe, for example, there is still a strong conviction that God is the supreme guarantor of human dignity and human rights. So where does the risk lie? It lies in an uncritical submission to the influence of negative cultural models widespread in the West.
“For Central and Eastern Europe, where such tendencies can seem like a kind of ‘cultural progress’, this is one of the most serious challenges today. This, I am convinced, is the area where a great spiritual confrontation is taking place, the outcome of which will determine the face of the new Europe which is being formed at the start of the millennium.”

· Extracted from Memory and Identity: Personal Reflections by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on Friday at £12.99. © His Holiness Pope John Paul II, 2005
Order a copy at £10.39, plus £2.25 p&p from Times Books First, 0870 160 8080

German anger over abortion-Holocaust link by Pope


THE Pope’s new book stirred controversy in Germany as Jewish groups condemned passages in which he draws parallels between abortion and the Holocaust.
Paul Spiegel, the president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, said yesterday that “the Catholic Church does not understand, or does not want to understand, that there is an enormous difference between mass genocide and what women do with their bodies”.
The Vatican rushed to the Pope’s defence, saying that he had been misinterpreted. But the German Greens, who are part of the ruling coalition, said that they were taking court action to ban Memory and Identity, an autobiographical summation of the 84-year-old pontiff’s life.
German law forbids any “offence to the memory of Holocaust victims”. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that in the offending passage the Pope had discussed the failings of parliamentary democracy and sought to make clear that “a course of action is not necessarily right because the majority have chosen to take it”.
The Pope observes that Hitler rose to power by democratic means and yet proceeded to exterminate millions of Jews. He adds that it follows that parliamentary majorities do not always make “morally just” decisions. “The example which springs to mind is abortion,” he says. “Whoever interrupts a pregnancy commits a grave act of tyranny against an innocent human being.”