The Mysterious Nun Who Grabbed Ali Agca’s Arm on May 13, 1981
13 Maggio 2021
Dear friends and enemies of Stilum Curiae, with the author’s permission we publish this article by Antonio Socci appeared on Libero, in memory of the attack that John Paul II suffered. Good reading.
The Mysterious Nun Who Grabbed Ali Agca’s Arm on May 13, 1981
By Antonio Socci
First printed in Libero, 16 April 2021
Exactly forty years after the assassination attempt on John Paul II, there is again talk about an enigma related to what happened on that 13th day of May, 1981. Ali Agca, who was a professional assassin and could not have failed at such a close distance, explained to the judge Ilario Martella that he fired only two shots because “next to me there was a nun who at a certain moment grabbed my right arm, so that I could not continue to shoot. Otherwise, I would have killed the Pope.”
Antonio Preziosi has just published a book, Il Papa doveva morire (San Paolo), and he too has verified that this sister was not Sister Letizia Giudici, the one who blocked the way after the shooting when the would-be assassin tried to flee, because she was quite a few meters behind Agca: “I was not the one who grabbed his arm,” she said.
Preziosi concludes: “That day in Saint Peter’s Square there must have been two sisters. One was certainly Sister Letizia Giudici. But the other one is unknown: was she simply the fruit of Ali Agca’s active imagination? Or was there really a second nun? We will never know the answer.”
Actually, for many years there has been talk about the religious sister in question, who turned out to be Sister Rita Montella (whose baptismal name was Cristina Montella), an Augustinian sister who died with a reputation for holiness on November 26, 1992, in the cloistered monastery of Santa Croce sull’Arno in Tuscany. Sister Cristina, who was connected to Padre Pio, had great mystical gifts, and today the Church is considering opening her beatification process.
It was a case of bilocation. Thus the attack that would have changed the history of the Church and of the world was thwarted.
The direct testimony of Sister Cristina on this matter was reported by her biographer, the Passionist Father Franco D’Anastasio, and later in other publications (one by Arcangelo Aurino, another by Cristina Siccardi and another by the author of this column).
First printed in Libero, 16 April 2021
Excerpt from Il Segreto di Padre Pio by Antonio Socci, Rizzoli 2007
On May 13, 1981, at about 5:17 p.m. in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome, a Turkish killer sent by dark and powerful forces, Mehmet Ali Agca, is about to kill Pope John Paul II. The 23-year-old “grey wolf” is a professional, he is an excellent shooter, he is there to kill, he is just behind the front row, at very close range (he is only three meters from the Holy Father). He is very calm and determined, and thus the target, defenseless and exposed in front of him, has no escape.
But then how and why did the assassination fail? If he had killed him – and the odds were 99.99% that he would – his pontificate would have been snuffed out in its early days. The history of the Church would have been very different, but above all world history would have been, because the role that the “Polish pope” played in the subsequent bloodless collapse of communism was colossal, decisive. Everything would have gone differently, and certainly much more dramatically for the whole of humanity.
I repeat therefore the question: how and why did the assassination fail? Who prevented the killer from perpetrating that murder that was about to happen at 5:17 p.m. that day in Saint Peter’s Square, the place that nineteen centuries earlier had witnessed the martyrdom of the Apostle Peter?
Pope Wojtyla has always said that he was saved by a supernatural intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The witnesses to this are the icon of the Blessed Mother that he had placed high above Saint Peter’s Square, at the point where the crime was committed, and also a bullet – from that attack – that the Pope wanted to take to Fatima the following year as a votive offering to the sanctuary of Fatima, to have it set in the crown of the Queen of Peace.
In fact, the day of the attack was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the anniversary of the first apparition (which took place on May 13, 1917). And such a coincidence truly suggests that there was a supernatural protection over the Pope who escaped death.
It is truly inexplicable that a highly skilled and determined professional killer would have missed such an easy and defenseless target, firing only two shots. Even the trajectory of the bullet that hit the Holy Father in the abdomen seemed unnatural, especially to the surgeons. That a mysterious hand deflected the bullet in order to save the life of the Pope is not only a subjective persuasion of Karol Wojtyla; it is an objective fact that is in a certain sense scientifically established: “Professor Crucitti added that he observed something absolutely anomalous and inexplicable. The bullet had moved inside the Pope’s abdomen in a zigzag way, avoiding the vital organs. It had passed within a whisker of the central aorta. If it had struck it, the Holy Father would have bled to death before even reaching the hospital. It had avoided the spine and all the other central nervous centers: if it had struck them, John Paul II would have been paralyzed. “It seems,” the professor concludes, “that the bullet was guided so as not to cause irreparable damage.”
For this reason, on May 13, 1994, speaking to the Italian bishops, John Paul II could reasonably affirm: “It was a maternal hand that guided the trajectory of the bullet, and the dying pope stopped at the threshold of death […] The deadly bullet stopped and the Pope lives – he lives to serve!”
That that mysterious hand belonged to the Mother of God, whose apparition was celebrated that day in Fatima, was a certainty for Papa Wojtyla. “I went to Fatima to thank the Blessed Mother,” he wrote in Memory and Identity. On that day, May 13, 1982, the first anniversary of the attack, he declared: “I saw in everything that happened to me a special maternal protection of the Madonna. At this hour, here in the sanctuary of Fatima, I want to repeat now in front of all of you: Totus Tuus – “totally yours” O Mother! The pope then repeated on various occasions, “one hand fired, another hand deflected the bullet.”
No one, obviously, has ever looked for witnesses of that supernatural intervention. No one could imagine that a hand had physically prevented Agca from firing the decisive shots. Until one day in July 2007 I came across some documents I had received in May 2005, putting them aside without paying attention to them.
While I was arranging some books, I opened a dossier that I didn’t even know I had, which contained the extraordinary story of Cristina Montella, the “child” of Padre Pio. I dove into the reading and discovered an unknown continent. And after a few days I started looking for the man who gathered so many testimonies and extraordinary documents about her.
On a warm and bright day in August, I drove southwards through the Spoleto Valley, which runs below Assisi. It seemed like a pilgrimage: I passed Santa Maria degli Angeli with the great basilica that contains the Portiuncola, then Rivotorto (a small church built over the stable in which Francis lived with his companions), then Spello, and finally Trevi. And then, heading towards Montefalco, in the middle of the countryside I find the sanctuary of the Madonna della Stella. The Passionist Father Franco D’Anastasio lives here, a refined Biblical scholar, who for years was rector of the sanctuary of San Gabriele dell’Addolorata. D’Anastasio has written a number of valuable books about this Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (born Francesco Possenti March 1, 1838 – February 27, 1862) and especially on his “charismatic presence” which make D’Anastasio his greatest biographer and historian. One of his recent books is dedicated to the analogies between Saint Gabriele and Padre Pio. But in recent years, Father D’Anastasio has carried out an impressive amount of historical research, collecting a mountain of documents and testimonies on the figure of Sister Rita Montella (in the world Cristina Montella), an Augustinian nun who died with a reputation for holiness on November 26, 1992, in the cloistered monastery of Santa Croce sull’Arno in Tuscany.
The life of Sister Rita, and indeed above all her vocation, so full of gifts and superior charisms (beginning with bilocation) is intertwined from the beginning with the life of Padre Pio and particularly with his “reparative action.” Her connection to the Capuchin saint is special, as we will see, and is documented and witnessed among other things by Father Teofilo dal Pozzo – a highly esteemed and authoritative Franciscan figure – who was the spiritual director of Sister Rita and superior of the Capuchin province of Foggia, thus the direct superior and friend of Padre Pio.
Father Teofilo was a direct witness of the mysterious joint “missions” of Padre Pio and Sister Rita. And he was in a rigorous and profound way the first to verify the charism and holiness of life of Sister Rita, along with other authoritative men and women religious. Father D’Anastasio, gathering together all of these testimonies, was also able to draw on his personal knowledge of the nun, from whom he has learned important information over the years. One of the things he learned, truly shocking, concerns the attempt on John Paul II, who was the same age as Sister Rita.
Immediately after the events of 1981, Sister Rita confided to Padre Franco in a conversation – making him promise to keep the secret at least until her death – that she had been present in bilocation in Saint Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. But there is more: “Together with the Madonna, I deflected the shot of the man who tried to kill the Pope [Assieme alla Madonna deviai il colpo dell’attentatore del papa].” These are her exact words.
It is a revelation that obviously leaves us disconcerted, and which can be taken into consideration only by considering the absolute reliability of this nun, her holy life, and the supernatural gifts that she possessed and which were witnessed to by completely trustworthy people, beginning with what Saint Pio of Pietrelcina attested about her, he who – as we shall see – completed some of his most extraordinary feats together with Sister Rita.
[…] To this disconcerting secret, however, there is added another brief phrase that Sister Rita let slip – in a completely unrelated way in a different circumstance – to Signora Gabriella Panzani, who was a friend of the nun for many years. One day, when the attempt on the pope was spoken of, Sister Rita said: “How much I had to struggle to make sure that it didn’t get worse [Quanto ho dovuto faticare perche non avvenisse di peggio].” A flash that allows us to glimpse the dramatic “price” of love that must have been paid, composed of prayers and very difficult penances that this mystic took upon herself in place of others, in this case to make amends for an immense sacrilege. We are in that dimension of “vicarious expiation” which Sister Rita lived heroically and which permitted Padre Pio to draw down many graces from Heaven for suffering human beings and for the Church. That sentence also offers us a glimpse of the answer to an objection that it is natural to make: but why on earth would Heaven have needed a little cloistered sister unknown to everyone in order to save the Pope? The first answer, of course, is that God’s designs are inscrutable. Perhaps in this case Heaven may have wanted a person to give testimony to what Our Lady has done. But a fragment of the answer could also lie in the fact that Sister Rita was an earthly creature, belonging to the Church militant, and therefore she could offer things up and offer herself to obtain that immense grace for the Church and for the world. Only people who are still in this life can do it, and thus they have an extraordinary “power.” Padre Pio maintained that the only thing for which the angels infinitely envy us is suffering and offering, because it is the strongest and most sincere way of saying to God, “I really love you!”
We will see in Padre Pio what infinite value human suffering has – in the eyes of God – when it is offered with love. We will see how capable His Heart is of being moved and to do “violence” to his justice (“the Kingdom of God belongs to the violent [Mt 11:12]). In this case, in order to obtain an immense grace: saving the life of a great pope.
In the face of such a sensational revelation, what sort of confirmations can we look for? I thought that there could be none of any kind, since it was a supernatural event. I didn’t think it made sense to even look for them. Except that a surprising confirmation of this event could have been unknowingly given – without knowing anything about this whole story – by the protagonist of the event, the would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca. To the investigating judge Ilario Martella who interrogated him, during the second judicial investigation into the attack, he described what happened as follows: “It was my precise intention to kill the pope. This was the order that was given to me, so much so that I fired only two shots because next to me there was a sister who at a certain moment grabbed my right arm, so that I could not continue shooting. Otherwise I would have killed the pope.”
When I read these words, it seemed to me that they contained sensational news that seemed to have escaped attention: there was a nun who foiled the murder. It was inevitable to think of Sister Rita. In fact, news immediately spread about a nun who had obstructed Agca while he was shooting. One may see this in the newspapers of the time. For example, Adriano Sofri recalled this in an article dedicated to the nuns: “In the afternoon of the attack in Saint Peter’s Square, it is said that a nun threw herself on Ali Agca to deflect the blow.”
But, apparently, everyone has always superimposed the figure of the nun whom Agca speaks about, the one who grabbed his arm, onto another nun who later blocked his escape. It is an error perhaps due to the fact that the only nun found and identified on the spot was the second, who also testified at the trial. In fact there was no trace of the first nun, she was not identified by the police, she had not remained in Saint Peter’s Square after grabbing the attacker’s right arm, preventing him from firing more shots. It was as if she had evaporated. We are touching – as may be clearly understood – the realm of mystery, the supernatural, and certainly there are those who will turn up their noses at this. The mystics – as Jean Guitton says – upset our presumed physical-mathematical certainties because they open up other dimensions in front of us; they make us realize how short our sight is and allow the Eternal to break through into the present moment.
Thus even the impossible becomes understandable: the news of a nun who lives in a cloistered monastery in Tuscany and who, one day while bilocating, stops the man attacking the Pope from shooting again. After all, the testimonies about the bilocations of Sister Rita and Padre Pio, as we shall see, are many and indisputable. Furthermore, the facts are objectively consistent with the “revelation” relating to Sister Rita. The first is Agca’s confession, in which he speaks of a sister who grabbed his arm, preventing him from firing other shots. The second fact is the testimony of the “Sister Lucia” who blocked Agca’s escape.
It was not easy to get a hold of her (even indirectly). I knew that she lives in a convent in Genoa, but she does not speak to journalists. Recently, however, on January 10, 2006, she wrote a memoir of the attack for “L’eco di Bergamo.” Sister Lucia Giudici – who actually as a religious is called Sister Letizia – writes: “Yes, it fell to me to catch Ali Agca, who was trying to flee from the piazza after shooting the Holy Father. I waited in vain that day for someone to block him, but all the pilgrims and tourists at that moment were stunned and shocked seeing the gravely wounded Pope be transported to the Agostino Gemelli hospital. Everything took place in a matter of minutes, and I instinctively looked for the right moment to stop him and keep him until the moment to hand him over to the police.”
Sister Lucia here does not say at all that she found herself next to the would-be assassin, and that she grabbed his arm – on the contrary, she places her gesture as happening after the attacker has fired, while he was fleeing. So it provides an answer. But it is necessary to understand precisely how far she was away from the Turkish killer. How to do so? I learned that Sister Lucia is originally from a village in the area of Bergamo and that, right during the days when I am writing, she is there on vacation. Thanks to the precious collaboration of Ettore Ongis, the editor of Eco, I managed to get her to come to the 6pm Mass there on August 23, 2007, and there, informally, she offered a precise explanation that seems definitive to me. Here it is: Ali Agca was in front of the nun, at a distance of about 10 meters. He fired the two shots, then turned and began to run away, heading towards Bernini’s colonnade, that is, towards Sister Lucia. Since no one stopped him, she spread her arms to block the way. He then pointed the gun at her, but then, as he moved to go backwards, he lost his balance, and at that point she blocked him until others arrived, and then the carabinieri who handcuffed him.
So now it is certain: Sister Lucia was some distance away from Agca at the moment of the shooting; she was 10 meters away. And so she was not the nun who – according to the words of the would-be assassin – “at a certain moment grabbed my right arm, so that I could not continue to shoot. Otherwise I would have killed the pope.” But if it was not Sister Lucia, who was that sister who was never identified on the spot by the police, because after the attack she seems to have vanished from Saint Peter’s Square?
Today Padre Franco D’Anastasio can reveal the confidence he received from Sister Rita, because she died in 1992. So he is no longer bound to secrecy.
[…] After all, Sister Rita gave other interesting elements to Father D’Anastasio immediately after the attack. I summarize them in a nutshell: “The assassin will not speak. The bullets the wounded the Holy Father were poisoned. He [Agca] was with two others who fled. There was an international plot against the pope and the Church.” All of these flashes were soon confirmed in the investigations of the judiciary and subsequent events.
From Antonio Socci, Il segreto di Padre Pio, Rizzoli 2007, pp. 9-20, with the permission of the author
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