Pope John Paul II, his condition stable and his mental alertness gradually returning, appeared today to be making a satisfactory recovery from a long and delicate operation yesterday following a shooting attempt on his life by a man believed to be a fugitive Turkish terrorist.
Doctors attending John Paul at Rome's Gemelli hospital, where he remained in an intensive care unit, issued two medical bulletins that spoke of a steady improvement in his condition but tempered this with notes of caution, pointing out the continuing risk of complications such as infection. risk of complications such as infection.
Italian authorities today provisionally charged Mehmet Ali Agca, 23, with attempted murder of the pope and with wounding two American women in the attack with a 9 mm Browning pistol in St. Peter's Square during his weekly outdoor Wednesday audience. Formal charges are expected to be placed later by a magistrate.
The Italian national press agency, quoting police sources, said Agca was behaving in a "cold and cynical way" under questioning and was refusing to reply to a number of police queries. The report said he showed no sign of being mentally disturbed or under the influence of drugs.
Agca's motivation and organzational links remained murky. Turkish authorities have identified him as a member of an extreme right-wing organization, but Italian police today quoted him as saying, "I am a comrade of the communist Palestinians" and a follower of George Habash, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But in Beirut, a spokesman for Habash's group said, "We have nothing to do with him. We think it's meant to defame the Palestinian resistance and the PFLP. How stupid do you think we are to suggest we would want to kill the pope? What benefit would we obtain?"
The investigation is headed by Rome's attorney general, Achille Galucci, one of Italy's most noted magistrates for his part in prosecuting Red Brigade terrorists.
In a special mass in St. Peter's Basilica today to celebrate the pope's survival, Cardinal Carlo Confalonieri, the dean of the College of Cardinals, said John Paul had forgiven his attacker. "There is no resentment in him, just comprehensive pardon," said Confalonieri, who was among those visiting the pope today.
Despite the extensive treatment the pope is undergoing in Rome's most modern hospital, he received several visits during the day from aides and dignitaries, as well as thousands of telegrams from world leaders and others wishing him a quick recovery.
A noon medical bulletin said the pope had spent a quiet night following 5 1/2 hours on the operating table yesterday. "I cannot conceal the fact that the situation is serious," said Francesco Crucitti, one of the hospital's operating team members. "The course of the next days will give us an answer that we hope will be favorable. In this hour, one can be neither optimistic nor pessimistic."
A second bulletin seven hours later said: "The general condition of the holy father remains substantially unchanged. In the 10 hours since the issuance of the last bulletin, the [pope's] level of consciousness has further improved, with more active participation in his surroundings."
The medical report said the pope's metabolism, blood pressure and breathing "indicate a normal post-operative course" but noted that "the prognosis is still reserved."
The principal concern of the medical team is the risk of infection resulting from early leakage from the intestines and colon, both of which had been perforated by gunshot and were the most critical part of the surgery, according to Dr. Luigi Candia, director of the Gemelli Hospital.
Vatican officials, although expecting a prolonged convalescence, stressed the positive. Cardinal Ugo Poletti, vicar of Rome, told reporters at the hospital: "After his stay in the hospital, which is forecast to be a long one, the holy father will be able to regain full possession of all his physical facilities."
This evening, the pope's Polish secrectary, said mass in the hospital room and gave communion to the pope. At least three cardinals, including vatican Secretary of State Agostino Cassaroli visited the pope during the day.
With the pope likely to be unable to turn his full attention to official matters for some time, Roman Catholic officials today began to assess what impact the shooting would have on church affairs. The most significant result was expected to be further delay in decisions on church appointments and other specific items that John Paul had already allowed to pile up. In Vatican circles, he has a reputation for taking a deliberate approach to decisions.
A planned trip later this month to Switzerland, during which the pope had hoped to meet with the Ecumenical World Council, has been canceled, and a visit to Spain in the fall may be rescheduled. But Vatican spokesmen said the pope wanted a conference of bishops here, scheduled for June 7, to take place, although it is not known whether he will be able to take part.
The pope has made no moves to delegate his papal authorities to Vatican aides and church experts here predicted that John Paul, who had been a robust, energetic world traveler before yesterday's attack, would be difficult to restrain even afterwards.
"I think some people in the Vatican who had been critical of the pope's open, free and easy style may now push a bit more to rethink the trips and the audiences," said Father Vincent O'Keefe, a senior member of the Jesuit Curia in Rome. "But I don't think they'll succeed."
While Vatican security guards and Italian police reviewed the events that preceded the shooting, Rome police commended the two plainclothes offices who caught Agca -- Augusto Cececcarelli and Rosario Giannone.
The chief of Rome's political police force, Alfredo Lazzarini, today said that four shots were fired at the pope from a 9 mm Browning automatic pistol as John Paul was completing a circuit of the vast St. Peter's Square in an open vehicle, stopping to greet and bless crowds.
Lazzarini said Agca was pointed out by bystanders as the one who fired at the pope. He said Agca tried to run after the shooting, but the two plain-clothes offices caught him and handcuffed him.
Two Turkish police agents arrived today from Ankara and confirmed the identity of Agca. Turkish authorities say they have been searching for him since he escaped from jail in 1979. He has since been sentenced to death in Turkey for the murder of the editor of the newspaper Milliyet.
Italian authorities said Agca had been able to enter the country at least twice in the past five weeks using a false Turkish passport under the alias Faruk Azgun. Police in central Italy's Umbria region said Agca arrived there on April 5 and was registered at the Hotel Posta in Perugia on the night of April 8. On April 9, police said Agca registered for a three-month Italian course at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, paying about $150.
On April 10, police said, Agca attended classes, but on April 11, he checked out of the hotel and disappeared. Police said he went to the Spanish island of Majorca on a two-week vacation and flew from Milan on April 23.
He returned on May 9, passing through passport control with his falsified papers without problem, police said.
Turkish authorities said today they had tipped off Italian police two weeks ago that Agca, who had previously threatened to kill the pope, was in Italy. But a spokesman for the Italian Foreign Ministry said he knew of no such tip.
According to police in Milan, however, a fellow Turk spotted Agca dining at a restaurant in Milan on Feb. 2 and at once told the Turkish consulate. But Agca reportedly had left by the time antiterrorist police arrived and he remained underground until yesterday.