The pope's directive was delivered by the Rev. John Magee, a papal secretary who later became bishop of Cloyne in Ireland, The Irish Times reported. The papal order was reported in a memo from the British embassy in Dublin to the Irish government that detailed a conversation between Magee and Humphrey Atkins, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland in 1981.
Magee told Atkins he had given Sands "a personal message from the pope telling Mr. Sands that it was his duty to stop."
"Father Magee said he had asked Sands to provide time for possibilities to be explored by ending his hunger strike, if only temporarily -- say for three days," the document said. "Sands said that he would end it immediately for five days provided that certain conditions were satisfied."
Sands asked for negotiations on the demands of IRA prisoners in the Maze Prison in Belfast in the presence of "guarantors," including two priests. Atkins said the British government would not negotiate.
The memo was given to the Irish prime minister's office April 29, 1981, a week before Sands died May 5. It is among British government documents released this week under the 30-year rule, a law that requires cabinet documents to become public 30 years after they were written.