Forty years after the unsuccessful assassination attempt against Pope St. John Paul II, a writer who extensively studied his papacy is encouraging the faithful to embrace the late pope’s model of forgiveness and reject “cancel culture,” which he characterized as “the opposite of forgiveness.”
Thursday marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination attempt against Pope St. John Paul II, which took place just six weeks after the newly elected president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, was shot. In an interview with The Christian Post, Patrick Novecosky, a Catholic public speaker and journalist who wrote the book 100 Ways John Paul II Changed the World, reflected on the legacy of John Paul II as well as the state of the Catholic Church and Western society today.
As Novecosky explained, on May 13, 1981, Pope St. John Paul II “was hit four times, twice in the abdomen, and the [bullets] that struck him in the abdomen were within millimeters of a major artery, so he lost a lot of blood.” Despite the pain he was suffering, John Paul II immediately forgave Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who attempted to kill him.
“As he was being rushed to the hospital, he told his aides, ‘I forgive my assailant, I forgive him from my heart.’ And he reiterated that ... he actually called him ‘my brother.' I forgive … my brother who did this,’” Novecosky recalled. “As he was recovering, he actually lobbied the Italian government to pardon this guy.”
In addition to forgiving the man who shot him, the late pope later visited him in prison and called for his pardon. He brought a camera crew and a photographer to the Italian prison and “instructed the prison that Agca was not to be handcuffed,” Novecosky said. “He wanted to show the world that forgiveness is not only possible, but it’s necessary.”
After John Paul II spent years praying for his assailant’s conversion, Agca “went through a great conversion and became a Christian, and expressed interest in becoming a priest,” Novecosky said. After his release from prison, Agca placed white roses at the grave of the man he attempted to kill decades earlier.
Novecosky contrasted John Paul II’s spirit of forgiveness with the phenomenon of cancel culture, which he described as “the opposite of forgiveness.” Cancel culture, he said, “It’s saying I don’t agree with you, I don’t want to dialogue with you, I don’t want to understand you, I just want you to go away.”
“John Paul II, I believe, if he was alive today, would stand very firmly against that,” Novecosky asserted. “He would be writing and speaking against that because that is certainly not from God and it’s certainly from the evil one, because it does not lead … to dialogue, it doesn’t lead to understanding, it doesn’t lead to peace, it leads to division. We’re seeing more and more of that in our culture, where … the lines of division are being enhanced instead of erased.”
Cancel culture is not the only source of division within contemporary Western society and the Catholic Church today. Robert Moynihan, the editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, spoke about his conversations with the Vatican’s former ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, in a recent interview with CP.
Moynihan highlighted Vigano’s concern about “doctrinal abuse” within the Catholic Church, which he described as an effort by some Church officials to change “the teaching on life issues, on moral issues, on the sacramental issues, and even on the divinity of Christ.” He lamented the trend of “compromising the Catholic faith in order to reconcile with the pluralistic society of the United States” as opposed to upholding the traditional teachings of the Church.
In response to this “doctrinal abuse,” Novecosky said, “I think it’s tragic that some people who call themselves Catholic are divorcing themselves from the teachings of the Catholic faith.” He asserted that having “people in the Church who are openly hostile to the teachings of the Church … sows division.”
Regarding the ongoing and intensifying debate over whether Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion should receive communion, Novecosky said that by “openly advocating for the destruction of human life,” these politicians have placed themselves “outside of the Church because human life is unique and precious and endowed with … an immortal soul from God.”
He maintained that “advocating for its destruction” constitutes a “serious sin” that requires people who have “separated themselves from the Body of Christ” by taking that position need to “refrain from taking Holy Communion.”
Elected pope in October 1978, John Paul II served as the Bishop of Rome until his death at the age of 84 in April 2005. Novecosky, who met John Paul II five times, recounted his “formative” first encounter with the late pontiff.
Novecosky’s meeting with the pope was made possible after he received the grand prize at a 1996 Christmas party, which was a trip for two to Cancun. He told CP that “I didn’t want to go to Cancun; I wanted to go to Rome.” Novecosky traded the tickets to Cancun for a ticket to Rome. His employer at the time, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, suggested that he “do some work” for them in his capacity as a journalist for the order of priests and brothers’ magazine.
Novecosky accepted an offer from the order to meet with the pope and got to attend a mass with John Paul II in his private chapel, which held about 30 people. Additionally, Novecosky made a “presentation to him of my work” after that. After meeting the late pope, Novecosky started “following him more closely,” most recently by publishing his book last year in honor of what would have been the long-serving pontiff’s 100th birthday.
Novecosky hopes that people will remember Pope St. John Paul II for his “passion for evangelization.” His work to establish a “new evangelization,” which was “new in ardor, methods, and expression” and sought to express the same concepts “in a different way that connects with the modern world,” was the first of the 100 ways that John Paul II changed the world, as compiled by Novecosky.
In his public speaking, Novecosky has stressed the need to usher in an “age of heroic Catholicism” to replace the “age of casual Catholicism.” Novecosky told CP that in order for such an age to emerge, “we need more people like John Paul II, who are steeped in their faith, who understand it and are able to articulate it to a broad audience with passion and zeal and with charisma.”
“We need more voices to convince the culture that Christianity is the only way that our planet will survive, that humanity will survive because if we are separate from God, then we’re detached from reality because God is the ultimate reality and the ultimate truth. Jesus said I am the way and the truth and the life. And if you separate yourself from Christ, then … it’s very difficult to recognize truth, it’s very difficult for someone who is living, in a sense, in an alternate reality because they don’t know God.”
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com