“The [would-be] assassin was unusually sure of himself. As a motive, he
cited his wish to be known worldwide and find a place in history,” said historian Leszek Pietrzak. “Evidence suggests the threat was an element in the operational game of the communist secret police. It provided an ideal pretext for tightening surveillance on clergy and opposition activists.”
Writing in the daily newspaper Polska on February 17, the historian said the alleged attacker, identified as “Jan N,” sent a letter to Poland’s interior
minister, General Czeslaw Kiszczak, announcing his intention to “rub the pope out” with a shot to the head at close range during the pontiff’s third homecoming in June 1987.
“The communist regime’s consent to another papal pilgrimage in an atmosphere of growing economic crisis and social discontent was a risky undertaking,” the historian explained. “The condition for its efficient management was the neutralization of anti-socialist elements. This meant mobilizing the interior ministry’s entire apparatus, which also had to be rationally justified. Information about anonymous terrorists met the criteria of a
The Pope traveled widely in Poland during his pilgrimage, admonishing human rights violations, and urging supporters of the outlawed Solidarity movement to maintain their ideals. He also prayed at the Warsaw grave of Jerzy
Popieluszko (1947-84), the Roman Catholic priest slain by secret police agents, who is widely expected to be beatified, or declared blessed, as a martyr by his church in October.
The week-long visit took place six years after John Paul II narrowly escaped death after being shot in St Peter’s Square by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, and was followed two years later by the collapse of communist rule in eastern
A former chancellor of the Polish church’s Warsaw archdiocese, Zdzislaw Krol, told Polish television on February 15 he had also heard of a
plot during the pilgrimage. He had alerted police, who arrested a Bulgarian for alleged involvement.
Krol noted that the Austrian Embassy had warned Polish officials of a plan to kill the pope in Warsaw’s Millennium Stadium during his previous 1983
Polish pilgrimage, involving three escaped members of Italy’s Red Brigades
“The secret police wanted to fence the pope off from the faithful by placing several dozen casually dressed young militiamen around his altar,” the
priest said. “I didn’t agree and asked for a group of the church’s own [security] service to surround the altar instead. One of the generals warned me I’d be put on trial if anything happened to the Pope.”