Aide: Pope John Paul II wounded in stabbing

October 16, 2008 1:18:26 PM PDT
The longtime private secretary of the late Pope John Paul II revealed in a film screened Thursday that the pope was lightly wounded in a 1982 knife attack by a priest in Portugal. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz made the revelation in "Testimony," a movie on John Paul's life that was screened for Pope Benedict XVI and top clergy at the Vatican.

It was known that John Paul was assaulted by a knife-wielding Spanish priest while visiting the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to give thanks for surviving an assassination attempt. He when he was shot by a Turkish gunman in St. Peter's Square in 1981.

"Today I can say what up to now we have kept secret," Dziwisz said in the movie. "That priest wounded the Holy Father."

The ultraconservative priest, Juan Maria Fernandez Krohn, was opposed to the reforms adopted by the Catholic Church and attacked the pope in a Fatima square. He was stopped by police and spent several years in jail.

Dziwisz said blood was found on the pope's vestments after the attack but John Paul was not seriously injured and was able to continue with his schedule.

Dziwisz, now archbishop of Krakow, served the pope for 39 years from his years as bishop there until his death in Rome in 2005 and has often said John Paul was "a father" to him.

The movie is an all-Polish production based on Dziwisz's book titled "A Life with Karol" - a reference to John Paul's real name, Karol Wojtyla.

Benedict said he was "deeply moved" by the film which allowed him to relive John Paul's life and said he was sure his predecessor "is with us from above in this moment."

"By revealing unknown episodes, the movie shows the humanity, the steadfast courage and finally John Paul's suffering, faced until the end with the strength of a mountaineer and the patience of a humble servant of the Gospels," Benedict said after the screening.

The movie, narrated by Dziwisz and British actor Michael York, combines documentary footage, including images of the pope's 1982 visit to Fatima, with dramatizations.

Speaking in Polish, voiced-over into Italian, Dziwisz revealed other episodes of John Paul's personal and public life.

In one case, he said, John Paul performed a successful exorcism on a woman who was brought into the Vatican writhing and screaming in what Dziwisz said was a case of possession by the devil.

The aide also recalled a letter to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in which the pope said his native Poland had "a right to be free" from Communist rule. The letter was never answered, Dziwisz said.

Recounting John Paul's efforts against Communism, Dziwisz said that in 1983, on his second papal trip to Poland, the pontiff threatened to return to Rome unless the country's leaders allowed him to meet with Lech Walesa, the head of the pro-democracy Solidarity movement. The meeting took place in a lodge in Poland's Tatra mountains.

Dziwisz also recalled private details, like the pope's fondness for Polish Christmas cakes and sweets. He said he followed John Paul on road trips outside the Vatican without security to go hiking and skiing, with pope camouflaged in a black hooded cloak.

The film traces Wojtyla's life from his birth in 1920 in Wadowice near Krakow, through the German occupation of Poland in World War II, to the years as priest, bishop and cardinal in postwar Communist Poland, to his election on Oct. 16, 1978 and his subsequent 26 years as pope.

It was shown at the Vatican to mark the 30th anniversary of his election. The film will be shown in theaters in Poland and there are plans to have it translated for distribution in other countries.