VATICAN CITY — In an era of such heightened airport security, it seems impossible a regular passenger would ever be allowed to board a plane with a handgun.
But if you’re on a flight tonight from Rome to Poland, that young blond priest with an unusual black carry-on case just might be packing a pistol — the very same pistol Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, used in his assassination attempt of Blessed John Paul II.
Polish Father Dariusz Ras is the director of the John Paul II museum, which is located in the pope’s childhood home in Wadowice.
He was in Rome today to attend a formal handing-over ceremony to receive the gun Ali Agca used to shoot the pope May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square.
During a visit to the Vatican press office, the priest told a small group of us journalists that he’ll be circled by special agents at the airport and will have to hand the case over to the pilot, who will keep it locked up during the flight.
It took a year to get permission and the necessary permits to receive and transport the gun over national borders. The gun will be on a three-year loan to the museum, which will celebrate a special April 9 inauguration ceremony.
The museum’s 16 exhibits each focus on a particular aspect of the Polish pope’s history, helping visitors “get inside the life” of Pope John Paul, Father Ras told me. They were “very interested,” he said, in having the gun on display in the section on the assassination attempt.
The gun is in the custody of the Italian Ministry of Justice in its archive of criminal evidence. According to the Lateran Pacts, any crime committed in St. Peter’s Square, an open area that borders on Italian territory, falls to the Italian police, which is why Italians took over the investigation and trial of Ali Agca.
Father Ras said the Gemelli hospital, where popes go for hospitalized treatment and care, is donating the hospital room furniture, including hospital bedsheets, used by Blessed John Paul during his time there.