In an extraordinary interview with the Daily Mirror, Mehmet Ali Agca was asked if he regretted the 1981 attack which shocked the world.
After pausing for a second the former terrorist replied: “It was destiny. And it was destiny he survived. I am very glad he didn’t die.
“The Pope became like a brother to me. When he died [in 2005] I felt like my brother or my best friend had died.”
We tracked down Agca, 62, to Istanbul, Turkey, where he lives in a small apartment in a quiet suburb.
After 29 years in jail he has renounced his violent past and neighbours know him better as the kind man who daily feeds stray cats and dogs.
He said: “I think of how I shot the Pope on most days… not every day now but most days.
“I’m a good man now. I try to live my life properly. When I shot him I was 23. I was young and I was ignorant.
“I remember how rational I felt. I fired the gun and then it jammed.”
Agca also disclosed, for the first time, that he had an English girlfriend just five months before he attacked John Paul II in St Peter’s Square, Rome.
He said: “I already knew I was going to shoot the Pope but I didn’t tell my English girlfriend. It wouldn’t have been fair on her.
“You know I had an English girlfriend? I met her in Tunisia in December 1980. Her name was Edith. We met at the Intercontinental Hotel in Hammonasset. I was travelling on a false passport and she would have known me as Farouk.
“I already knew I was going to try and kill the Pope but I didn’t tell her.
“She worked in a large London department store like Harrods. I can’t remember which one.
“She was very, very beautiful and I had a great time with her.
“She was six or seven years older than me. But she certainly didn’t know her boyfriend was already planning to kill the Pope.
“I do sometimes wonder what happened to her.”
Agca is still reluctant to discuss exactly how his sinister mission came about but the facts are well documented.
At 5.17 pm on Wednesday, May 13, 1981, as John Paul passed in the Popemobile through excited pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, Agca fired four shots with a 9mm Browning Hi-Power semi-automatic pistol.
He fled in the ensuing panic and got rid of the pistol by throwing it under a lorry.
He was then grabbed by a Vatican security chief, a nun and several spectators.
All four bullets hit the Pope, critically injuring him. Two lodged in his colon, one hit his left index finger and the other injured his right arm.
The Daily Mirror’s front page the day after said simply: “The man who shot the POPE.”
Our leader column read: “The attempted assassination of John Paul II is the most appalling and dreadful act yet in a world grown sick with violence.”
Agca, who had also been charged with murdering left-wing newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci in Istanbul in 1979, was sentenced to life in jail for shooting John Paul.
But the Pope forgave him and after his recovery, visited him in prison.
Agca told me: “There are some things I cannot talk about. In that 22-minute private meeting with the Pope when he visited me in jail there are some things I have never discussed what he told me. It was very special.”
In 2000 Agca was pardoned at the Pope’s request and extradited to Turkey where he spent another 10 years in jail after he was convicted of murdering Mr Ipekci and raiding two banks.
After half a lifetime behind bars, he is now transformed but still reluctant to discuss exactly how the mission came about and who financed it.
But he did confirm the Soviet Union was behind the shooting.
He said: “It was they who plotted the assassination – they wanted him dead.”
Agca had studied history, languages and finance at universities in Ankara and Istanbul and dreamed of becoming a professor.
And as I speak to him, it seems impossible such an intelligent man could have such a violent past, and have been someone who paid the equivalent of £10,000 in today’s money to a former Nazi on a street in Vienna to buy the gun he shot the Pope with.
After his release, Agca worked as a car salesman but he now lives on royalties from book sales.
He said: “I managed to learn some English when I was in prison. I read The Da Vinci code – it’s a very primitive book about what happens in the Vatican. I also read Tom Clancy.
“I would very much like to visit London if I could get a visa.”
Then he joked: “I’m up to date on Brexit – perhaps that will change everything.”
Agca, who is single and never married, is now hoping to tell his story on the big screen.
He said: “I am planning to make a film or some sort of documentary on what happened. I am hoping Hollywood will be interested.”
He is banned from visiting Italy but made a clandestine trip back in 2014.
He recalled: “I went back to Rome, back to the Vatican.
“I wasn’t allowed to but I went into the forests of Serbia and got across the border into Hungary and then made my way down to Italy.
“I went into St Peter’s Square on December 27 – to the exact spot where I shot the Pope. I took some flowers with me, roses.
“It was the exact time, 5.20 pm, that he visited me in jail on December 27, 1981.
“Some people recognised me but there was no trouble, no problems at all. The police were very nice to me.”
Incredibly, in 2015, he also decided to visit Russia. He had never been before, even though he claims the Soviets orchestrated the assassination plot.
He told me: “I went to Moscow. I see the Kremlin as like al-Qaeda.
“I met some very senior people but they told me, ‘This is Russia now not the Soviet Union. We owe nothing to you’.
“If they had wanted to kill me that was the time to do it. But they didn’t. I believe in God. I respect all religions – Muslims, Christians and Jews.”
Now Agca spends his days feeding stray cats and dogs on the streets of Istanbul.
He said: “Animal rights are as important as human rights. I spend around £200 a month feeding them.
“It is the right thing to do – they all know me and come running when they see me. They are all so innocent. We must look after them as well as we look after people.”
And he added: “I feel like the Pontiff of stray animals in Istanbul.”