Pope John Paul II, in his first public address since he was shot last Wednesday, prayed today for the Turk accused of the assassination attempt. The words taped for his regular Sunday message came over loudspeakers at St. Peter's Square, where the shooting occurred.
In a weak and sometimes quavering voice that clearly showed the strains of his ordeal, the pope said, "I pray for that brother of ours who shot me and whom I have sincerely pardoned.
"United with Christ, priests and victims, I offer my sufferings for the church and for the world."
The pope's brief message of forgiveness was recorded earlier in the day in his room at Gemelli Hospital, where he is recovering from three gunshot wounds, and then broadcast over Vatican Radio to a crowd of thousands gathered in the colonnaded square to hear his words.
Many were turned toward the fourth-floor window of the Apostolic Palace where the pope normally appears at noontime each Sunday to give his weekly blessing. The crowd of well-wishers repeatedly burst into applause, and as he read his message in a halting voice, some could be seen wiping tears from their eyes.
The pontiff said he felt "particularly close" at this time to the two American women, Ann Odre, 60, and Rose Hall, 21, who also were wounded in the assassination attempt.They are now listed in satisfactory condition at the Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican and were reported to have broken into tears upon hearing the pope's voice on the radio.
The pope's message came as Italians went to the polls in a two-day referendum on five issues, two relating to abortion -- a practice the pope has vehemently opposed.
The 3-year-old existing law permits abortions with state assistance for women over l8. The attempt to restrict abortions to protecting the mother's health was not given much chance prior to the pope's shooting. but the Italian press has been speculating that the wave of sympathy generated by the event could lead to its appeal.
Other longstanding issues now before the voters are the current strict antiterrorism law and proposal to do away with the compulsory life sentence for certain crimes -- the sentence that could apply to the pope's assailant. Another would prohibit Italians from carrying guns outside their houses.
Meanwhile, a medical bulletin described the pope's overall condition as "positive" and said his intestines, badly damaged by the 9 mm bullet that ripped through his abdomen, were showing signs of resuming normal function.
So far, there has been no indication of any infection developing in the damaged intestine, the most serious threat to his full recovery, according to doctors attending the pope.
One of them, Emilio Tresalti, said the pontiff had sat up in an arm chair for half an hour at noontime and that he was making excellent progress for a person who had undergone such a grueling operation.
But the pope, who will be 61 on monday, is still reported to be running a slight fever and to be suffering some pain as a result of being taken off pain-killing drugs Friday.
Italian magistrates involved in questioning the alleged assailant, 23-year-old old Mehmet Ali Agca, took a day off from their interrogation.Italian press reports indicate they are having an extremely difficult time getting the Turkish terrorist to reveal much about events leading up to the assassination attempt.
However, the Italian news agency Ansa reported last night that Agca had told his interrogators that he had been paid nearly $50,000 for the assassination of Turkish newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci, and had used some of his money to arrange his escape from jail in Turkey and obtain a false passport in the name of Faruk Ozgun.
If true, this might explain how, as an unemployed person, he was able to travel extensively around Europe in the 17 months since his escape from prison, including a reported visit to the Spanish resort island of Majorca. The suspicion so far has been that he received funds along the way from one or another right-wing terroist group.
Agca is still insisting, however, that he belongs to no such group and acted alone, even while telling police he was trained in a camp in Syria and had sympathies for the Palestinians.
Italian magistrates are so convinced that the Turkish terrorist is connected to a right-wing organization that yesterday they assigned five Roman judges who are specialists in Italian right-wing subversive groups to the team carrying out his interrogation.
One of the problems facing Italian investigators, they say, is a number of discrepancies in Agca's accounts of his activities making it difficult to know when he is telling the truth or trying to mislead them.
He is described in Italian press accounts, based on information being supplied by the police, as being tough and cool, a professional terrorist who has not yet shown any sign of breaking down under the pressure of interrogation.
He has told the police, however, that he used at least two pseudonyms other than Faruk Ozgun during his travels through Europe: Ali Hussein and Ali Mussein. A search for bank accounts in all three names is underway, in the hope of unearthing some of the $50,000 he alleges he was paid for murdering Ipekci.
Agca has given the police a six-page deposition in which he is reported to have admitted initial close ties to a right-wing movement in Turkey but to have added that he subsequently converted to Marxism at a Palestinian base in Syria.
Italian investigators, however, seem to feel there was never any such conversion. "He is trying to further muddy already murky waters." one of them was quoted by news agencies as saying here today.