The pope: a familiar target

VATICAN CITY -- The attempted knife attack on Pope John Paul II at the Portuguese shrine of Fatima came almost a year to the hour after the pope was critically wounded by a gunman in St. Peter's Square.

It came 12 years after a Bolivian painter, dressed in priestly garb as was the attacker in Portugal, tried to stab Pope Paul VI during a visit to Manila in the Philippines.


Popes havealways been closely guarded figures, especially the Medieval and Renaissance periods when they played a key role in the politics of Europe and maintained their own armies.

But the threat against popes in modern times has been different, usually linked to the spiritual influence they wield or their widespread popularity.

The shooting attack on John Paul II exactly one year ago was carried out by a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, thought by Italian police to have acted in conspiracy with right-wing Turkish extremists seeking to publicize their cause.

Though Agca, 24, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the attack, police have never furnished solid evidence for their conspiracy theory.

John Paul spent 2 months in the hospital following last year's attack recovering from three bullet wounds from a 9mm pistol, one in the hand, another in the arm and the third in the abdomen.


But the attempt on John Paul's life by a bayonet-wielding man in Portugal Wednesday night most closely resembled a similar attack on Pope Paul VI at Manila airport Nov. 27, 1970.

Paul was just arriving in Manila as part of a tour of Asia when a young man dressed in black priestly vestments approached him, drew a knife and lunged to attack.

Vatican security guards, including American Bishop Paul C. Marcinkus who also was with John Paul Wednesday night, wrestled the attacker to the ground and disarmed him.

The Manila attacker was identified as Benjamin Mendoza y Amor, a 35-year-old Bolivian painter described by Philippine authorities as a madman.

Paul VI's personal secretary, Monsignor Pasquale Macchi, revealed years later that the pope was slightly injured in the attack.

Manila also was the scene of a minor incident when John Paul II visited the Philippine capital in February of last year.

The pope was celebrating an outdoor mass at Manila when a youth rushed to the altar. Police, fearing an attempt on the pope's life, wrestled the youth to the ground but he was unarmed.

The pope approached the boy, allowed him to kiss his papal ring and blessed him. Police then escorted the youth away.


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