Echo of an Ancient Rite

The extraordinary scene of Pope John Paul II huddled in intense conversation with his would-be assassin had an emblematic quality for hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics. In appearance, if not content, it echoed an ancient tradition of the church: confession of personal sins to a priest.

That encounter was not, however, meant to administer the Catholic sacrament of penance. Mehmet Ali Agca's education in his own faith, Islam, apparently is spotty, but he probably has a general awareness of its teaching that God will weigh each person's deeds on the Day of Judgment. A practicing Muslim invokes the Almighty's mercy during...

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