Astute Soviets knew that the game was up when they witnessed that tsunami of love and joy, but less astute communists arranged to have him assassinated through the Bulgarian KGB on May 13, 1981. It was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. Did those atheists know on which day they had chosen to kill the Vicar of Christ on earth? John Paul would later say, “one hand fired the gun, another hand guided the bullet.” Ali Agca, a professional assassin firing at close range, missed a major artery by one millimeter, and John Paul would live another 24 years as our Pope. By then, the regime who had paid Ali Agca was a fading memory.
It is true: John Paul II defined Catholicism for my generation. The many “John Paul II priests” and many, many more “John Paul II spouses” learned the basic truths about God, his Holy Church, and ourselves, through this man. We discovered Our Lady, the Holy Mass, the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and the authentic trajectory of human history—where we have come from, and where we are going—at World Youth Days, through his encyclicals, and simply by seeing the photographs of his visits around the world. He gave us a reason to be Catholic, a “reason for hope.”
To some degree St. John XXIII defined Catholicism for the generation before me, although God did not grant John such a long papacy. Many of us in my age group, though, will rejoice to see the patron saint of our confused time, the 70's and 80's, raised to the altars next Sunday.