The Assassination Attempt, 13 May 1981
Like Peter, I have experienced the efficacy of the prayers of the Church
Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, 7 October 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
1. Today, after a long interruption, I am taking up again the general audiences which have become one of the fundamental forms of pastoral service by the Bishop of Rome.
The last time pilgrims to Rome were gathered for such an audience was on the 13th May. However, it could not be carried out. Everyone knows the reason why ...
Today, after an interval of almost five months starting with this encounter, so dear to me and you, I can not but make reference to the day of 13th May.
2. But first I must express to you the emotions and pain that the tragic news of the death of Egyptian President Sadat yesterday caused me.
He was killed by a terrorist act of extreme gravity and cruelty, that arouses feelings of bitterness and consternation and makes us thoughtful and concerned about the possible consequences.
President Sadat had been appreciated for his qualities as a man, a believer in God, and for his courageous initiatives for peace, with which he had sought to open up new ways of resolving the long and bloody conflict between Arabs and Israelis.
I invite you to pray for this great statesman and for the other victims of the barbarous attack, among whom was a Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church; we also pray for their families, in particular for the spouse and children of the President, suffering so much at this time.
Our plea rises again to God that the Egyptian people and its rulers may overcome this trial, in fraternal cohabitation and orderly progress, carrying forward the search for peace, which was the longing of their President; and, in this time disturbed by so much violence, fear and concern, we invoke the Lord to hasten the day of reconciliation and peace for the countries of the Middle East.
3. "Misericordiae Domini, quia non sumus consumpti" (Lam 3, 22).
These are the words of the People of God, who express gratitude to their Lord for salvation - and praise Him for Divine Mercy.
Today I desire to repeat these words before you, dear brothers and sisters, gathered for this Wednesday audience. I desire that they be like an echo of that 13th May - and of that general audience, which it was not possible to carry out because of the attack on the Pope.
4. During these long weeks of my recovery at Gemelli Hospital the episode often came to mind of the earliest days of the Church in Jerusalem, described in the Acts of the Apostles. Herod had arrested Peter, "he caught him, threw him into prison, consigning him into the custody of four squads of soldiers ... ... with the intention of bringing him before the people after the Passover. Peter was therefore held in prison, while incessant prayer was made to God by the Church for him. And on that night, when Herod was about to bring him before the people, Peter, guarded by two soldiers and bound with two chains, was sleeping, while the sentries before the door guarded the prison. And behold an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He touched Peter's side, awoke him and said, "Get up quickly!" And the chains fell from his hands. And the angel said to Peter: "Put on your belt and do up your sandals." And so he did. The angel said, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." Peter went out and followed him, but had not yet realized that what was happening by the angel's work was reality: he thought he was having a vision.
They passed the first guard and the second one and came to the iron gate leading into the city: the gate opened by itself in front of them. They went out, walked down one street and suddenly the angel vanished. Peter, coming to himself, then said: "Now I am truly sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that was expected by the people of the Jews"" (Acts 12, 3-11).
This episode, which occurred in the first days of the Church in Jerusalem, often came to mind during my stay in hospital. Although the circumstances of that time and those of today seem so dissimilar from each other, it was however difficult for [me] the convalescent, successor of Peter in the bishop's seat of Rome, not to meditate on these words of the Apostle: "I am truly certain, that the Lord rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that was expected ..."
5. I have also reported this passage from the Acts of the Apostles for the words that are in it and that have been for me such a great support during this period. While "Peter was held in prison ..", "incessant prayer by the Church for him arose to God" (Acts 12, 5).
I have experienced, dear brothers and sisters, in a similar way to Peter, segregated and destined for death, the efficacy of the prayers of the Church. I experienced it immediately: on the part of those who had gathered for the general audience, which could not be carried out. I experienced the efficacy of such prayer on the same day, 13th May, as news of the attack was divulged by the media across the whole world. This news sparked reactions from various parts of the world, from diverse countries, from Heads of States, from Rulers of Nations, from so many men and different environments. Above all, however, the news brought men together in prayer. They filled the episcopal cathedrals and parish churches. Our Orthodox and Protestant brothers prayed together with us. But not only them. The followers of Moses and Muhammad also prayed. And also others.
It is difficult for me to think of all this without emotion. Without deep gratitude for everyone. For all those who on the day of 13th May gathered in prayer. And for all those who persevered in it during all this time. For this prayer I am grateful to men, my brothers and sisters. I am grateful to Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit, who through this event, which took place in St Peter's Square on 13 May at 17:17 (5.17 in the afternoon), inspired so many hearts to communal prayer.
And in thinking about this great prayer, I cannot forget the words of the Acts of the Apostles, which refer to Peter: "incessant prayer by the Church for him arose to God" (Acts 12, 5).
6. "Debitores facti sumus" (Rom 8, 12).
It is thus. I have become even more indebted to everyone. I am indebted to those who directly contributed to saving my life and have helped me return to good health: to the professors and doctors, the nursing sisters and lay staff at the Gemelli Hospital. I am at the same time indebted to those who have surrounded me with this extended wave of prayer all around the world. I am indebted.
And once again I became indebted to the Most Holy 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 on which more than sixty years earlier the first apparition of the Mother of Christ to the poor peasant children is remembered at Fatima in PortugalPORTUGAL? Because, in everything that happened to me on that day, I felt her extraordinary maternal protection and care, which has proved stronger than the deadly bullet.
Today is the memorial of the Mother of the Holy Rosary. The whole month of October is the month of the Rosary. Now, at a distance of almost five months, with the gift of meeting you anew, dear brothers and sisters, in the Wednesday audience, I desire that these first words I address to you are words of gratitude, of love and of even deeper trust. Just as the Holy Rosary is and remains always a prayer of gratitude, of love and of trusting request: the prayer of the Mother of the Church.
And I encourage and invite you all, once again, to recite this prayer, especially during this month of the Rosary.
7. Accept, dear participants in this meeting, these first words, that are linked with my memories of 13th May. Given that they cannot contain everything, I will seek to complete them at our forthcoming meetings."
The event in May: a great divine test
Wednesday General Audience, 14 October 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"1. Last Wednesday, during the general audience, I made reference to the event of the 13th May. Since that day our meetings have been interrupted, and as they are now being resumed again thanks to my recovered health, I desire to share with you at least briefly the content of my meditations during this period of several months, in which I have participated in a great divine Test.
I say: divine Test. Although in fact the events of the 13th May - the attack on the Pope's life and also its consequences, linked to the intervention and care at Gemelli Hospital - have their own fully human dimension, this can not however obscure an even more profound dimension: the dimension precisely of the test permitted by God. Everything that I spoke about last Wednesday must also be placed in this dimension. Today I desire to return to it once again with you.
God has permitted me to experience suffering during the last few months, He has permitted me to experience the danger of losing my life. At the same time He has permitted me to understand clearly and to its very depth that this is a special grace for me (myself) as a man, and at the same time it is - in view of the service that I fulfill, as Bishop of Rome and Successor of St Peter - a grace for the Church.
2. It is thus, dear brothers and sisters: I know I have experienced a great grace. And, remembering together with you the incident of the 13th May and the whole period that followed, I cannot but speak above all of this. Christ, who is the Light of the world, the Shepherd of his flock, and above all the Chief Shepherd, has granted me the grace to be able, through suffering and with the danger to life and health, to give testimony to his Truth and his Love. Exactly this I feel to have been a particular grace given to me - and for this I express in a special way my gratitude to the Holy Spirit, whom the apostles and their successors received on the day of Pentecost as the fruit of the Cross and Resurrection of their Master and Redeemer.
This is why, this year, the feast of the descent of the Holy Spirit acquired for me a very particular significance, when, together with the whole Church, and especially in union with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we gave thanks for the gift of the First Council of Constantinople celebrated 1600 years ago - adding the commemoration, here in Rome, after 1550 years, of the Council of Ephesus. Since the time of the First Council of Constantinople the whole Church has professed: "I believe in the Holy Spirit who is Lord and giver of life".
Precisely this Holy Spirit "who gives life" was invoked by Christ when, before his ascension to the Father, he said to the apostles: "You will have the strength of the Holy Spirit who will descend upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1, 8). It is the Holy Spirit who, since the day of Pentecost, has helped the apostles to give testimony first in Jerusalem and afterwards in the diverse countries of the world. It was He who gave them the strength to witness to Christ before all the people and when, because of this encounter, they went to torments, he permitted them to rejoice for "being reviled for love of the name of Jesus" (Acts 5, 41).
It was the Holy Spirit who led Paul of Tarsus through the streets of the world of that time. It was the Holy Spirit who sustained Peter in giving testimony to Christ, first in Jerusalem, then in Antioch, and finally here, in Rome, the capital of the Empire. This testimony was confirmed at the end with martyrdom, as it was also the testimony of Paul of Tarsus, the great Apostle of the Nations.
3. These words which Christ the Lord and Redeemer, Christ the eternal Shepherd of souls, addressed to the apostles before going to the Father, refer to their successors, and refer as well to all Christians. The apostles are the beginning of the new People of God, as the Council teaches (cf Ad Gentes, 5). But if everyone is called to give testimony to Christ crucified and risen, they are in a very particular way those who, after the apostles, have inherited the pastoral and magisterial service in the Church. How many successors of Peter in this Roman seat have sealed with the sacrifice of their lives this testimony of pastoral and magisterial service? The sacred liturgy manifests it when, during the course of the year, it remembers the numerous Supreme Pontiffs who have followed Peter in giving their testimony of blood.
It is difficult to talk about these things without profound veneration, without inner trepidation. In fact, by the sacrifice of those who bore testimony to Christ crucified and risen, especially during the first centuries, the Mystical Body of Christ increased, the Church arose, was deepened in souls and was consolidated in this ancient world that - so often - responded to the Good News of the Gospel with bloody persecutions.
4. All this should be kept in mind by those who come to Rome, to the "apostolic memories", those who return in the footsteps of St Peter and St Paul. I too am a pilgrim here. I am a foreigner, who through the will of the Church had to remain here and assume succession in the Roman See following after so many great Popes, Bishops of Rome. And I too feel deeply my human weakness - and thus with trust I repeat the words of the apostle : "virtus in infirmitate perficitur", "power .. is manifested ... in weakness" ( 2 Cor 12, 9 ). And thus with great gratitude to the Holy Spirit I think of this weakness, that He has allowed me to experience on the day of 13th May, believing and humbly trusting that it was able to serve for the strengthening of the Church and also for that of my human person.
This is the dimension of the divine test, that is not easy for man to unveil. It is not easy to talk about it with human words. However there is need to talk about it. This great grace needs to be confessed with deepest humility before God and the Church, for it became my portion in that period, in which the whole People of God was preparing for a particular celebration of Pentecost, dedicated this year to the remembrance of the First Council of Constantinople after 1600 years - and even the Council of Ephesus - after 1550 years.
In Ephesus then for the benefit of the whole Church echoed anew the truth about Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who through the work of the Holy Spirit was made true man, conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born of her for the salvation of the world. Mary is thus true Mother of God (Theotokos).
When then together with you, dear brothers and sisters, I ponder upon the grace received together with the threat to my life and the suffering, I turn in a particular way to Her: to the one whom we call also "Mother of divine Grace". And I ask that this grace "be not in vain in me" (cf 1 Cor 15, 10), just as with every grace that man receives: everywhere at any time. I ask that with every grace that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit pours out with abundance, this strength may be born that grows in our weakness. I ask that the testimony of Truth and Love may also grow and expand, to which the Lord has called us."
Forgiveness is a grace
and a mystery of the human heart
Wednesday General Audience, 21 October 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
1. In this welcome meeting with you today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to return again to the event of 13th May. I am returning to it with you to remember that which has already been spoken on that day before Christ, who is Master and Redeemer of our souls, and which was read aloud publicly on the following Sunday, 17th May, at the prayer of the "Regina Coeli".
Here are the words that today are not only carried over but also repeated to express the truth contained in them, which is as much today as then the truth of my soul, my heart and my conscience:
"Dearest brothers and sisters, I know that in these days and especially at this time of the "Regina Coeli" you are united with me. Moved by your prayers I thank you and I bless you all. I am particularly close to the two people injured together with me. I pray for the brother who shot me, whom I have sincerely forgiven. United to Christ, Priest and victim, I offer my sufferings for the Church and for the world. To you, Mary, I repeat: Totus Tuus ego sum."
2. Forgiveness! Christ taught us to forgive. He spoke of forgiveness many times and in various ways. When Peter asked him how many times he should forgive his neighbour, "as many as seven times?", Jesus replied that he had to forgive "as many as seventy times seven" (Mt 18, 2). In practice, this means always: in fact the number "seventy" for "seven" is symbolic, and means, rather than a specific quantity, an incalculable, infinite quantity. Responding to the question about how to pray, Christ pronounced those magnificent words addressed to the Father: "Our Father who art in heaven"; and among the requests that compose this prayer, the last one speaks of forgiveness: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive" those who are guilty as regards us (= "our debtors"). Lastly Christ himself confirmed the truth of these words on the Cross, when, turning to the Father, he implored: "Forgive them!", "Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do" (Luke 23, 34).
"Forgiveness" is a word pronounced by the lips of a man, to whom wrong has been done. Nay, rather it is the word of the human heart. In this word of the heart each of us strives to overcome the frontier of hostility, that can separate one from another, each of us seeks to reconstruct the interior space of understanding, of contact, of bonds. Christ taught us with the word of the Gospel, and above all with his own example, that this space opens up not only before the other man, but at the same time before God Himself. The Father, who is the God of forgiveness and mercy, desires to act exactly in this space of human forgiveness, He desires to forgive those who are reciprocally capable of forgiving, those who seek to put into practice these words: "Forgive us ... as we forgive."
Forgiveness is a grace, which must be thought about with humility and deep gratitude. It is a mystery of the human heart, which is difficult to elaborate. However I wish to dwell on what I have said, because it tightly makes up part of the event of 13th May, as a whole.
3. During the three months I spent in hospital, this passage from the Book of Genesis, which everyone knows well, often came to mind:
"Abel was a pastor of sheep and Cain a worker of the soil. After some time, Cain offered the fruits of the soil in sacrifice to the Lord; Abel too offered the firstborn of his sheep and the fat thereof. And the Lord welcomed Abel and his offering. Cain was very angry and his face fell. The Lord then said to Cain, "Why are you angry and why is your face downcast? If you act well, will you not be held high? But if you do not act well, sin is crouching at your door; its craving is towards you, you must master it." Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let us go into the countryside!" While they were in the countryside, Cain raised his hand against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?" He replied, "I do not know. Am I the guardian of my brother?" He responded, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the soil!"..." (Gen 4, 2-10).
4. In my meditations in hospital, I often returned to the memory of this ancient text, which speaks of the first attempt of man upon the life of man, of brother upon the life of his brother.
Thus, during the time when the man who made an attempt upon my life was prosecuted and received his sentence, I thought about the story of Cain and Abel, which biblically expresses the "beginning" of the sin against the life of man. In our time, in which this sin against the life of man is menacing anew and in a new way, while so many innocent men perish at the hands of other men, the biblical description of what happens between Cain and Abel becomes particularly eloquent. Even more complete, even more disturbing/devastating is the same commandment "not to kill". This commandment belongs to the Decalogue, which Moses received from God and which is contemporaneously written in the heart of man as the moral order's inner law for the whole of human behaviour. Does not God's question addressed to Cain speak even more to us of the absolute prohibition to "not kill": "Where is your brother?" And Cain's evasive answer creeping up, "Am I the guardian of my brother?", which leads to the other divine question: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries out to me from the soil."
5. Christ has taught us to forgive. Forgiveness is also indispensable for God for Him to put questions in the human conscience, to which He awaits a response in all interior truth.
At this time, when so many innocent men perish at the hands of other men, a special need appears to impose itself to approach each one of those who kill, to approach with forgiveness in the heart together with the same question that God, Creator and Lord of human life, put to the first man who had made an attempt upon the life of his brother and had taken - had taken that which belongs only to the Creator and Lord of life.
Christ taught us to forgive. He taught Peter to forgive "as many as seventy times seven" (Mt 18, 22). God himself forgives when man answers the question put to his conscience and his heart with the whole inner truth of conversion.
Leaving to God Himself the judgment and the sentence in their definitive dimension, we do not cease to ask: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
The Rosary is a privileged occasion
to pray with the Mother of God
Wednesday General Audience, 28 October 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"1. The end of October, the month of the Holy Rosary, is approaching. I wish, at this last general audience of October, to refer to the first occurrence in this month (it was also the first general audience, after the pause of several months caused by the event of 13th May). This first audience after the interval took place on the day dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary.
At the end of October I desire, together with you brothers and sisters, to take a look at the simplicity and, at the same time, the depth of this prayer, to which the most holy Mother in a particular way invites us, spurs us and encourages us. Reciting the Rosary, we penetrate the mysteries of the life of Jesus, which are contemporaneously the mysteries of his Mother. This is felt very clearly in the joyful mysteries, beginning with the annunciation, through the visitation and the birth in the night in Bethlehem, and then through the presentation of the Lord, ending with the finding in the Temple, when Jesus was twelve years old. Although it may seem that the sorrowful mysteries do not directly show us the Mother of Jesus - with the exception of the last two: the way of the cross and the crucifixion - how can we nevertheless think that the Mother was spiritually absent, when her Son suffered in such a terrible way in Gethsemane, at the scourging and the crowning with thorns? And the glorious mysteries are also mysteries of Christ, in which we find the spiritual presence of Mary - first among them all the mystery of the Resurrection. Speaking of the ascension, Holy Scripture does not mention the presence of Mary - but how could she not be present, if immediately after we read that she was in the Upper Room with the apostles themselves, those who had just before hailed Christ as he ascended to heaven? Together with them Mary prepares for the coming of the Holy Spirit and participates at Pentecost in his descent. The last two glorious mysteries orientate our thoughts directly towards the Mother of God, when we contemplate her assumption and coronation in heavenly glory.
The Rosary is a prayer regarding Mary united to Christ in his salvific mission. It is at the same time a prayer to Mary, our best mediator before the Son. And finally a prayer that in a special way we recite with Mary, just as the apostles prayed together with her in the Upper Room, preparing themselves to receive the Holy Spirit.
2. This is what I want to say about this prayer that is so dear, at the end of October. In doing so, I turn to all those who through their prayer, not only the prayer of the Rosary, but also the liturgical prayer and every other prayer, have sustained me during these past months. I have already given thanks for this on other occasions. I gave thanks too during the first general audience of this month. But the expressions of this gratitude will never be enough. Today, therefore, I desire to manifest once again my thankfulness, realizing how much I owe to all those who have sustain me and still continue to sustain me through prayer.
The major part of this assistance/support is known only to God. But in this period I have received thousands and thousands of letters, in which people from every part of the world have expressed to me their participation and assured me of their prayers. Today I would like, among the many, to read only one, that by a girl who wrote to me: "Dear Papa, I hope you get well soon so that you can return to reading the Gospel and the Word of God. I know that you have forgiven the man who hurt you and so I too want to forgive those who spy on me or kick me. May I always be good and may there be peace everywhere."
3. Towards the end of St Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, we find the following words: ".. be strong in the Lord and in the vigour of his power. Clothe yourselves in the armour of God, so as to be able to resist the snares of the devil. Our battle in fact is not against creatures made of blood and flesh, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of evil that live in celestial regions ... so ... Hold always in your hand the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one ... Moreover pray unceasingly with every sort of prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being vigilant to this discovery with all perseverance and praying for all the saints, and also for me, so that when I open my mouth a frank word may be given me, so as to make known the mystery of the Gospel, of which I am an ambassador in chains, and I may announce it with frankness as is my duty" (Eph 6, 10-20).
During the first audience of October I gave thanks - making reference to the Acts of the Apostles - because "incessant prayer by the Church arose to God for him" (that is for Peter). Today I have recalled the words of the Letter to the Ephesians so as to ask, as did Paul, for continued prayer, that it may now be given to me anew to resume service to the Gospel. It is a service of truth and of love. A service in regard to the Church and, at the same time, in relation to the world. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians says that this service of truth is, at the same time, an authentic struggle "against the spirits of evil", against "the rulers of this world of darkness." It is a struggle and a fight.
4. The Second Vatican Council also speaks of this fight in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes with the following words: "The whole of human history is in fact pervaded by a tough struggle against the powers of darkness; a struggle begun at the origin of the world and that will last, as the Lord says, until the last day. Placed in this battle, man must fight tirelessly to adhere to the good, and only at the cost of great effort, with the help of God's grace, can he attain his own interior/inner unity. For this reason the Church of Christ, trusting in the plan of the Creator, while recognising that human progress can serve to help must also make the apostle's saying resonate: "Do not desire to be conformed to this world" (Rom 12, 2), namely to that spirit of vanity and malice, which transforms/overwhelms human activity into an instrument of sin, which was ordered instead to the service of God and man" (Gaudium et Spes, 37).
And then the Council Fathers teach: "Therefore, if you wonder how such a miserable situation can be overcome, Christians affirm that all human activities, daily put in danger by pride and disordered love of self, must come to be purified and rendered perfect by means of the cross and resurrection of Christ" (ibid).
In taking up again anew my service after the test that divine Mercy granted me to overcome, I turn to everyone with the words of St Paul: pray "for me, so that when I open my mouth a frank word may be given to me to make known the mystery of the Gospel ... ".
5. The personal experience of violence has made me feel more intensely the closeness of those who in any place on earth and in any way suffer persecution for the name of Christ. And also of all those who suffer oppression for the holy cause of man and of dignity, for justice and for peace in the world. Of those finally who have sealed their fidelity with their death.
Thinking about them all, I repeat the words of the apostle in the Letter to the Romans: "None of us ... lives for himself and none of us dies for himself, because if we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord. Thus whether we live or whether we die, we are in the Lord. For this Christ died and rose to life: so as to be the Lord of the dead and the living" (Rom 14, 7-9).
These words are also for us preparation for the great solemnity of All Saints Day and the commemoration of 2nd November on which we remember All the Faithful departed."