May 13, 1981: Pope John Paul II shot in St. Peter's square

On this day: Pope John Paul II shot outside t... 01:54

More than 10,000 people gathered in St. Peter's Square outside the Vatican fell quiet on May 13, 1981. They had come to receive the blessing of Pope John Paul II. Instead, they saw him get shot.

"Amongst the cheering and the peel of bells announcing the arrival of the pope, they heard gunfire, and saw the pope turn pale and collapse, bloody, into the arms of his aides," reported CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather.

The open-air car he was traveling in immediately sped off, rushing the pope to the hospital as his security detail cleared the way. His Holiness was thought to be in grave condition as he went into surgery, where doctors operated for four hours and removed two parts of his intestines.

Hours after the shooting, mourners still roamed the square, trying to make sense of what had happened. "Some of them on bended knee, praying before portraits of the pope and hoping for his speedy recovery," CBS News correspondent Doug Tunnell reported from the Vatican.

"There is very much the atmosphere of shock."

The would-be assassin, a Turkish man named Mehmet Ali Agca, was in the custody of Italian police by the same evening. He had threatened to kill the pope two years before, Rather reported.

The pope forgave Agca, and visited him in prison in December of 1983. His Holiness also later intervened to help gain Agca's release in 2000.

Pope John Paul II (L) greets Mehmet Ali Agca at Rebibbia prison on December 27, 1983 in Rome. Agca attempted to kill pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981. ARTURO MARI/AFP/Getty Images

John Paul, largely considered to be one of the most beloved popes of all time, died in 2005. In 2014, Agca made a surprise visit to his tomb in St. Peter's Basilica and laid white flowers -- just steps away from the very place he had tried to kill him more than three decades before.

In 2011, Pope John Paul II was beatified by Pope Benedict VXI -- and on April 27, 2014, Pope Francis made him a saint.

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    Cydney Adams

    Cydney Adams is a senior manager of social media for CBS News. She is also a digital producer focusing on culture and social issues.