Love and Forgiveness in Governance: Exemplars: Pope John Paul II

by Ernest Ogbozor

Pope John Paul II is often described as "a true believer of forgiveness and compassion."[1] He did not only preach about forgiveness, but he lived a life of forgiveness until his death. In the article "Radical Forgiveness" Mike Hayes noted that John Paul gave us a moment that we need to remember when he visited his would be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca in Rebibbia prison in Rome, to forgive him for shooting him. Agca reciprocated in February 2005 when the Pope was hospitalized at Gamelli Polyclinic with Flu; he sent the Pope a message, wishing him a speedy recovery. Pope John Paul II was unafraid of the vulnerability that he created by living in forgiveness, sitting in love with his enemy; his need for God was greater than his need for security.[2] Pope John Paul II personally intervened to gain the release of Turkish terrorist, Mehmet Ali Agca who sought to kill him in 1981.[3] He said that the teaching of Christ instructed him to forgive Agca for shooting him.[4]

The last book written by Pope John Paul II in 2005, Memory and Identity, recounts a historic forgiveness visit of the Pope to Mehmet Ali Agca in prison after he survived the fatal assassin attack by the Turkish terrorist. According Pope John Paul II, "We talked for a long time. Ali Agca is, as everyone says, a professional assassin. Which means that the assassination was not his initiative, someone else thought of it, someone else gave the order."[5] Probably, Agca migrated to Italy after he killed a newspaper editor, Abdi Ipekci in 1978 in Turkey. The attack on Pope John Paul took place in St. Peter Square, Rome on May 13, 1981 when the Pope was on motorcade. Agca shot the Pope six times at a close range, twice in the stomach, once in the right arm and on the left arm. The Pope bled in open after the attack. As the Pope recounts the moment of the attack, he said, "I had a feeling that I would survive. I was in pain, I had reason to be afraid, but I had this strange feeling of confidence...Oh, my Lord! This was a difficult experience."[6] Pope John Paul II survived the attack after an emergency surgery.

The threat to Pope John Paul II's life did not change his belief in forgiveness; these was his motivation to meet with his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca in Christmas period of December 27, 1983, two years after his assassination attempt. According to Lewis Smedes, "Forgiveness happens inside the person doing the forgiving. It heals our pain and resentment before it does anything for the person we forgive; they might never know about it."[7] Pope John Paul II said, "Forgiving from the Heart can sometimes be heroic... Thanks to the healing power of love, even the most wounded heart can experience the liberating encounter with forgiveness."[8]

As the Pope arrived at the Agca's cell in Rebibbia Prison in Italy, he looked at his would-be killer in the eye, shook his hand, and Agca kissed John Paul II's hand. The two talked quietly for 21 minutes. John Paul said, "What we talked about will have to remain a secret between him and me, I spoke to him as brother whom I have pardoned, and who has my complete trust." After the meeting, the two shook hands and the Pope gave Agca a small gift in a white box, a rosary in silver and mother-of-pearl. "Real peace is not just a matter of structures and mechanisms. It rests above all on the adoption of a style of human coexistence marked by mutual acceptance and a capacity to forgive from the heart. We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is something profoundly worthy of every one of us,"[9] said Pope John Paul II. According to Senator Carlo Bo, "The Pope intends to say that, 'If we really want peace, we must make the first step, we must forget offenses and offer the bread of love and charity.'"


[1] "Pope John Paul II - Forgiveness," accessed August 8, 2013,

[2] "Pope John Paul II and His Message of Forgiveness - Loyola Press," accessed July 31, 2013,

[3] "Pope John Paul II - Forgiveness."

[4] Ibid.

[5] "Mehmet Ali Agca - Profile of Mehmet Ali Agca Pope John Paul II's Would-Be Assassin," accessed August 8, 2013,

[6] "Nachrichten Heute," accessed August 8, 2013,

[7] "Pope John Paul II : I Want You To Know About Forgiveness Story & Experience," accessed July 31, 2013,

[8] "Pope John Paul II and His Message of Forgiveness - Loyola Press."

[9] Ibid.