Pope John Paul II

In Brief: A plaque set high up on the outer wall of the Mariacki Church in Rynek Główny, showing a seated Pope John Paul II, his hand raised in blessing.

What’s it for? The plaque is a memorial to the mass that brought Kraków together on May 17 1981, in order to pray for the life of the Pope. He had been shot and severely injured just before he was due to speak to the public, in St Peter’s Square, Rome, four days earlier.

Who pulled the trigger? Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca was the gunman. He shot John Paul several times before being tackled by a nun. Agca was arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed for life. The Pope later visited him, and forgave him.

What was the reaction in Krakow? Initially, shock. Then, as if spontaneously, the mass and the city’s famous ‘White March’ were organised.

The White March? Well-wishers, whether Catholic or not, dressed in white and marched through the city streets. In the main square, they prayed on mass, for the life of critically injured Pope. Nobody was counting exact numbers, but estimates suggest that up to a million people may have taken part. Certainly, photographs from the time show the square and surrounding streets to be a sea of people. funeral on 8 April.

Why did it happen in Krakow? The Pope had been born, as plain Karol Józef Wojtyła in nearby Wadowice, and Kraków had always treated him as both son and uncle. Whenever he visited the city, he showed clearly that the love was reciprocated.
When was the memorial erected? Five years after the assassination attempt. The Pope expressed his gratitude to the people of Kraków, during visits in 1999 and 2002.
Thought for the day: “What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.″ (The Pope’s words after he visited his would be killer in jail).

Bookend biography: Born 18 May 1920, Wadowice. Died April 2 2005, Vatican City

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