Vatican marks 25 years since John Paul shooting
ROME, May 13 (Reuters) The Vatican today marked the 25th anniversary of the near-fatal assassination attempt on Pope John Paul holding a mass to commemorate one of the most notorious and mysterious crimes of the last century.
Italy's most senior cardinal, Camillo Ruini, was due to lead the service giving thanks for the life of the late Pontiff who believed he was spared death by the direct intervention of the Virgin Mary.
The Vatican has laid a marble plaque on the cobblestone floor of St. Peter's Square at the exact spot where John Paul was shot as he travelled in his open-top 'pope-mobile' on May 13, 1981, by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.
John Paul said he survived the attack because the Madonna of Fatima a vision of the Virgin who first appeared to Portuguese children on May 13, 1917 intervened to divert the bullet.
''By the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, my life was given back to me,'' he said of the shooting. Towards the end of his life, the Pope told a close aide: ''One hand shot me and another hand saved me.'' The Vatican also believes that the attack was predicted in the ''Third Secret of Fatima'', a message given to the Portuguese children who saw the Virgin's apparition.
No less mysterious is the motive behind the attack.
Agca, a right-wing gangster, was found guilty of attempted murder and served several years in an Italian prison before being deported to Turkey where he is still in jail for the killing of a newspaper editor in the 1970s and for robbery.
But a report by an Italian parliamentary commission published in March this year said the assassination attempt was a plot by the Soviet Union, a claim dismissed by the Russian government.
At the time of the shooting, events in the Pope's Polish homeland were starting a domino effect that was eventually to lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.
The Pope was a staunch supporter of Poland's Solidarity union and most historians agree he played a vital role in events that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
At a trial in 1986, Italian prosecutors failed to prove charges that Bulgarian secret services had hired Agca to kill the Pope on behalf of the Soviet Union.
REUTERS SY RN2036