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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 10:55 GMT
Pope's book confronts evil

By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Pope John Paul II releases a dove at the end of prayers on 30 January 2005
The Pope reflects on the nature of 20th Century evil
A book by Pope John Paul II has gone on sale in bookshops all over Italy.

Entitled Memory and Identity, the 225-page volume consists mainly of a transcript of conversations between the Pope and a group of friends in the garden of the Papal summer Residence at Castelgandolfo during the summer of 1993.

In the final chapter the 84-year-old pontiff gives a graphic personal account of the events immediately after the attempt on his life in Saint Peter's Square in Rome, in May 1981.

For the first time, the Pope puts on public record his belief that the shooting was commissioned by someone other than his would-be assassin, the Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

During Christmas 1983 the Pope visited Agca, who was serving a life sentence for attempted murder, in a Rome prison.

'Higher power'

"Ali Agca is a professional killer," the Pope writes.

"This means the attempt was not his initiative, that it was someone else who planned it, that someone else had commissioned it.

Mehmet Ali Agca in prison, June 2000
Agca's alleged link to Bulgarian communists was not proven
"During my whole conversation with Agca it was clear that he was asking himself how it was that the attempt to kill me had failed. He had done everything according to plan, attending to the smallest details. And yet the designated victim escaped death.

"How could it have happened?

"Probably Ali Agca understood that above his power, the power to shoot and kill, there is a higher power. And then he began to seek it. My hope is that he found it."

Pope John Paul reflects profoundly on the subject of good and evil in his book. The transcript lay for many years in a drawer in his study, until he decided to write a brief postscript and offer it to a commercial publisher.

The proceeds from the sale of the book - which is being published in 10 languages and distributed all over the world - will go to one of the Pope's charities.

Later in the same chapter the Pope reflects on the collapse of communism in eastern Europe.

Cardinal Ratzinger with Pope's new book
Cardinal Ratzinger stressed the Pope's ability to forgive
One of the reasons was the failure of the communist economies, he says.

"But it would be rather ingenuous to attribute (the collapse) only to economic factors," the Pope writes.

"I also know that it would be equally ridiculous to believe that it was the Pope who brought down communism with his own hands," he adds.

The Pope's new book, the fifth he has published in the past decade, was launched at a Rome press conference by his close adviser, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger.

Much of it is a closely reasoned philsophical argument about the battle between good and evil.

Fighting evil

The back cover bears a quotation from Saint Paul: "Do not let yourself be conquered by evil, conquer evil with good."

The Pope writes: "In our times evil has developed outside all limits. The evil of the 20th Century was of gigantic proportions, an evil that used state structures to carry out its dirty work, it was evil transformed into a system."

He reserves his strongest and most visceral condemnation for the communist system.

"In the end communism fell because of the inherent social and economic flaws in the system.

"But that does not mean that it has been really rejected as an ideology and a philosophy.

"In certain Western circles the end of communism is still believed to have been a loss and there are people who regret its disappearance."

Cardinal Ratzinger was questioned about criticism from German Jewish groups about a section of the book in which the Pope implicitly links the Holocaust with abortion. He denied that the Pope was linking the two.

Further details about the book's content

Pope canonises pro-life heroine
16 May 04 |  Europe
The legacy of John Paul II
15 Oct 03 |  Europe
Profile: Pope John Paul II
02 Oct 03 |  Europe
A life in pictures
15 Oct 03 |  In Depth


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