Image: Pope John Paul II injred after 1981 shooting.
Arturo Mari  /  Vatican via Reuters file
Pope John Paul II lies injured in his jeep, in St. Peter's Square, after being shot by a Turkish gunman in this May 1981 file photo.
updated 2/18/2005 7:19:05 AM ET 2005-02-18T12:19:05

Pope John Paul II for the first time publicly described the moments after he was gravely wounded in 1981, saying in his new book that he was fearful and in pain but had “a strange feeling of confidence” he would live.

In the book, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, the Polish pontiff also said his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, “understood that above his power — the power of shooting and killing — there is a greater power.”

In “Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums,” the pope said he remembered being rushed to the hospital but didn’t recall much of what happened after he arrived because “I was almost on the other side.”

“Oh, my Lord! This was a difficult experience. I woke up the next day, around noon,” John Paul wrote.

The book, his fifth, is essentially a transcript of conversations he had in Polish with his close friends political philosopher Krzysztof Michalski and the late Rev. Jozef Tischner in 1993 at his summer residence near Rome. It will be published Feb. 23 in Italy by Rizzoli, which also plans an English version soon.

In it, the pope reflected on a range of topics and broadly compares abortion to the Holocaust, saying both derived from governments in conflict with God’s laws.

'Strange feeling of confidence'
The most personal section of the book contains John Paul’s recollections of how his faith sustained him after being shot in the abdomen by the Turkish gunman on May 13, 1981, while riding in an open car in St. Peter’s Square.

“Yes, I remember that journey to the hospital,” he wrote. “I remained conscious for some time after. I had a feeling that I would I would survive. I was in pain, I had reason to be afraid, but I had this strange feeling of confidence.”

Before reaching the hospital, he told his personal secretary, the Rev. Stanislaw Dziwisz, now an archbishop, that “I forgive the assassin,” according to the book.

John Paul recalled his belief that the bullet was steered away from vital organs by divine intervention — which he has credited to the Virgin Mary of Fatima. Three shepherd children say the Virgin Mary appeared to them in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917 and made several predictions. Church officials said in 2000 that one of them foretold the assassination attempt on John Paul.

“Agca knew how to shoot and he shot with confidence, with perfection. But it was just as if someone guided this bullet,” the pope said.

The pope also described his meeting with Agca at Christmas 1983 in a Rome prison, a talk that gave John Paul the feeling that he had somehow reached his would-be killer.

“We talked for a long time. Ali Agca is, as everyone says, a professional assassin. Which means that the assassination was not his initiative, that someone else thought of it, someone else gave the order,” he wrote.

“During the entire conversation, it was clear that Ali Agca was burdened by the question: How did it happen that the assassination was unsuccessful? He did everything that was necessary, he took care of the tiniest detail of his plan. But still the victim avoided death. How could this have happened?”

During their talk, Agca grew interested in the secret of Fatima, the pope wrote.

“And a very curious thing ... this unrest led him to the issue of religion. He asked how it really is with this Fatima mystery. What is it based on? That was his main point of his interest, this is what he most of all wanted to find out,” the pope says.

The pope went on: “Ali Agca — as I believe — understood, that above his power, the power of shooting and killing there is a greater power. He began looking for it. I wish for him that he finds it.”

Agca was extradited to Turkey after serving almost 20 years for the shooting and remains imprisoned for other crimes. During John Paul’s 10-day hospitalization this month for breathing problems and flu, Agca wished the 84-year-old pontiff well.

While John Paul did not say who he thought ordered the assassination attempt, he called it “one of the last convulsions of the 20th century ideologies of force. Force stimulated fascism and Hitlerism, force stimulated communism.”

There has been speculation that agents from Bulgaria helped plot the assassination attempt because of that country’s ties with the Soviet KGB, which reportedly was alarmed by the pope’s support for the Solidarity trade union in Poland. In 2002, however, John Paul sought to lay the issue to rest, declaring he never believed there was a Bulgarian connection to Agca.

Thoughts on abortion, holocaust
On other topics, the pope says the Holocaust and abortion both came about when people decided to usurp “the law of God.”

“It was a legally elected parliament which allowed for the election of Hitler in Germany in the 1930s and then the same Reichstag that gave Hitler powers which paved a way for the political invasion of Europe and to the creation of concentration camps and for introducing the so-called ’final solution’ of the Jewish question, which meant the extermination of millions of sons and daughters of Israel.”

The pope continued, “We have to question the legal regulations that have been decided in the parliaments of present day democracies. The most direct association which comes to mind is the abortion laws. ... Parliaments which create and promulgate such laws must be aware that they are transgressing their powers and remain in open conflict with the law of God and the law of nature.”

In the book, the pope said the countries freed from Soviet domination and communist rule at the end of the Cold War — including his native Poland, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic — must resist cultural influences from largely secular Western Europe.

He wrote that during the struggle against communism, “this part of Europe has completed a task of spiritual maturing thanks to which certain values important for human life were devalued less than in the West.”

An advance Polish-language copy of the book, which goes on sale in Poland on March 11, was made available to the AP by the Krakow-based publishing house Znak.

The pope’s first book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” came out a decade ago and sold 20 million copies as an international best seller. Proceeds from his books go to charity.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Pope John Paul II's historic papacy

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  1. Pope John Paul II waves to the crowd during a visit to his Polish homeland in 1997. In his 26 years as pope, he nominated 483 saints, held more than 1,100 general audiences at the Vatican, issued 14 encyclicals on moral, religious and social issues, and traveled the world. Click for images, along with a timeline of the notable events in his life, before and during the papacy. (Wojtek Laski / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 1932

    Karol Wojtyla, seen here at age 12, was born on May 18, 1920, in the small southern Polish town of Wadowice, near Krakow. His father is a non-commissioned officer in the Polish army and his mother dies when he is eight years old. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 1939

    With talk of war in the air, Karol Wojtyla, second from right, works with unidentified colleagues to build a military camp in western Ukraine that summer.
    1942 After the Nazi invasion, Wojtyla decides to become a priest but the Nazis had closed the seminaries so he studies secretly at the residence of the Krakow cardinal, working in a quarry by day.

    1946 Wojtyla is ordained at the age of 26 and goes to Rome for advanced studies. (Adam Gatty / Il Giornale via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 1967

    The late Pope Paul VI places the cardinal's hat on the head of Karol Wojtyla, declaring him a cardinal in 1967.

    1964 He is promoted to archbishop of Krakow. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 1978

    Karol Wojtyja, now newly-elected Pope John Paul II, acknowledges cheers from pilgrims crowding Saint Peter's Square in his first appearance as pope on Oct. 16. He is the first non-Italian pope in 455 years, the 264th successor of St Peter and, at 58, the youngest pope for more than a century. (Massimo Sambucetti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 1979

    Pope John Paul II gestures to the crowd at New York's Shea Stadium after his arrival Oct. 3, 1979. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 1980

    Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh with Pope John Paul II during the royal tour of Italy, 1980. (Hulton Archive / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 1981

    The hand of Mehmed Ali Agca, holding a pistol, left, aims from the crowd at Pope John Paul in St. Peter's Square on May 13. Moments later the pontiff is shot and seriously wounded. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 1983

    Pope John Paul II talks to his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in his prison cell in Rome in Dec. 27. Agca is serving a life sentence for shooting the pontiff.

    1999 The pope says the teachings of Christ instructed him to forgive Agca. (Arturo Mari / Vatican via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 1987

    Pope John Paul II walks with President Ronald Reagan in the garden of the Vizcaya, a lavish mansion on Biscayne Bay, Miami, Sept. 10, 1987. (Scott Stewart / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 1987

    Pope John Paul II poses in San Francisco , Ca, with the Golden Gate Bridge in background, on Sept. 17, 1987. (Dave Tennenbaum / ASSOCIATED PRESS) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 1989

    Pope John Paul II welcomes Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to the first-ever meeting between a Kremlin chief and a pope at the Vatican Dec. 1. After the visit, the pope steps up the re-establishment of the Catholic Church throughout the East bloc, a move that parallels the crumbling of communist regimes across the region. (Massimo Sabucetti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 1995

    Pope John Paul II and South African President Nelson Mandela talking at the Presidential guest house in Pretoria. (Gary Bernard / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 1995

    Pope John Paul II prays during Mass at Camden Yards in Baltimore on Oct. 8. During his papacy, the pope travels the equivalent of 30 times the circumference of the earth, making more than 100 foreign trips and spending more than three years away from the Vatican. (Denis Paquin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 1996

    Pope John Paul II during his vacation in Cadore, Val Comelico, Italy. (Pool / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 1998

    Pope John Paul II, riding in the Popemobile, passes a painting of revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara during a landmark visit to Cuba. He mixes criticism of communism with criticism of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Cuban leader Fidel Castro says during the trip that he believes in God.

    1993 Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease begin to appear and the pontiff appears increasingly frail, but maintains a rigorous travel schedule. The pope’s left hand trembles and his facial muscles appear stiff during appearances. In later years, he becomes unable to walk and is carried in a special transporter from planes to his Popemobile. (Domenico Stinellis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. 1999

    Pope John Paul II is seen near the bronze Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Christmas Eve. Faltering at times, the frail pontiff walks through the door in a symbolic ceremony to mark the start of the church's third millennium.

    March 12, 2000 In an unprecedented public act of repentance, the pope delivers the most sweeping papal apology ever, repenting for the errors of the Roman Catholic Church over the previous 2,000 years. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. 2000

    Pope John Paul rests his hand on the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 26. The trip is the culmination of one of the pontiff's lifetime ambitions and follows a historic, and sometimes tumultuous, dialogue with Jews.

    1986 The pope visits the Rome Synagogue in the first visit ever by a pontiff to a Jewish house of worship.

    1987 The pope grants an audience to Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, angering Jews who accused Waldheim of Nazi war crimes.

    1993 The Vatican and Israel forge full diplomatic ties, aimed at ending 2,000 years of distrust and hostility between Christians and Jews.

    1998 The Vatican apologizes for Catholics who failed to help Jews persecuted by the Nazis. (Jerome Delay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. 2001

    Pope John Paul II, left, embraces Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on the day Bergoglio was elevated to cardinal in Vatican City. Bergoglio was elected pope on Wednesday, March 13, 2013, making him the first pope ever from the Americas. Bergoglio chose the name Pope Francis. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. 2002

    After a series of sex scandals involving priests and minors rocks the church in the United States, the pope summons a dozen American cardinals and two high-ranking bishops to the Vatican on April 23. Over two days the Americans, joined by the heads of the eight most senior Vatican departments, attempt to hammer out a process for defrocking any priest involved in the "predatory sexual abuse of minors." (Arturo Mari / Vatican via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. 2002

    Pope John Paul II waves to an estimated 2.7 million people during a Mass in Krakow's Blonie meadow on Aug. 18. The pontiff uses his ninth trip home, which many feared would be his last, to address the plight of the poor and jobless in Poland as well as discuss his own mortality. (Vatican via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 2005

    Pope John Paul II gives a silent blessing from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square on March 30. A day later, the pontiff, after being hospitalized twice during the previous two months, develops a high fever. On April 1, a papal spokesman described the pope's condition as "very grave." A day later, the pope died. (Pier Paolo Cito / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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