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Pope marks 20th anniversary of assassination attempt

Pope John Paul II was yesterday marking the 20th anniversary of the attempt on his life with a Thanksgiving Mass.

On 13 May 1981, Turkish activist Mehmet Ali Agca knocked the Pope down with a bullet, while the Holy Father was standing in an open popemobile in St Peter's Square. The seriously wounded Pope was rushed to Rome's Gemelli Hospital, where much of his intestine was removed.

That fateful day was the feast of the Virgin of Fatima. The Holy Father is convinced that the Blessed Virgin saved his life. He said on 13 May 1994: "A maternal hand guided the bullet's path, and an agonising Pope stood at the threshold of death."

John Paul II requested that the bullet removed from his body be placed in the Fatima shrine.

On 13 May last year, the Holy Father beatified the two shepherds who witnessed Mary's apparitions in Portugal. On that occasion, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, revealed that the third secret of Fatima foretold the white figure of the Bishop of Rome falling before his enemies.

The Pope forgave Agca in prison and later requested clemency for him, which was granted last year by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. Ali Agca returned to Turkey and is in prison for other crimes.