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 2/24/2005 9:26:24 AM ET 2005-02-24T14:26:24

Pope John Paul II’s new book went on sale Wednesday in Italy, with the passages regarding the 1981 attempt on his life apparently fanning public interest.

“Memory and Identity,” John Paul’s fifth book, was featured in windows of bookstores near the Vatican after a major promotion in newspapers and television broadcasts.

“We sold about 20 copies in less than hour this morning,” said salesman Igor Bodnar in the Ancora bookstore at the edge of St. Peter’s Square. “That’s pretty good, a real sign of interest.”

The book, priced in Italy at $21, was officially launched Tuesday evening by the Rizzoli publishing house, which hopes that the work that includes John Paul’s first public description of the moments after he was shot can become an international best seller.

Rizzoli, which holds the worldwide rights, announced it would come out in 14 editions in 11 languages in the next few months.

First account of thoughts after shooting
The book, based on conversations with Polish friends, covers a wide range of issues, particularly the damage done by Nazism and communism to Europe last century.

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 Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca on May 13, 1981, while riding in an open car in St. Peter’s Square. Slideshow: A historic papacy

“Yes, I remember that journey to the hospital,” he wrote. “I remained conscious for some time after. 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.”

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls confirmed that John Paul’s description of his ride in the ambulance had not been made public before.

The book is based on conversations the pope had in Polish with his close friends, philosopher Krzysztof Michalski and the late Rev. Jozef Tischner in 1993 at the papal summer residence near Rome.

“Someone taped them and transcribed them but it remained unpublished,” Navarro-Valls explained.

Nazi, communism and 9/11 topics
The book also examines the damage done by Nazism and communism to Europe last century, as well as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other recent terrorist acts, saying militant networks represent “a constant threat for the life of millions of innocents.”

A German Jewish leader criticized one passage in the book, saying the pope was making an unacceptable comparison between abortion and the Holocaust.

Paul Spiegel, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, pointed to the pope’s contention that both the Holocaust and abortion came about when people decided to usurp “the law of God.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a German who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, rejected the suggestion that the pope was “putting abortion and the Shoah on the same level,” using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust.

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