26 August 2018
On this day, Sunday 26 August 2018, His Holiness Pope Francis arrived at Knock Shrine via Ireland West Airport Knock. The mist and inclement weather did not deter the throngs who gathered to greet him, nor did it dampened their enthusiasm or the joyful atmosphere that prevailed throughout the entire morning. Pilgrims started to arrive as early as 4.30am, eagerly anticipating his arrival as the morning light slowly lighted their path.
The ceremonies began at 8.30am, led by hosts Úna Nolan (Director of Music at Knock Shrine) and Paul Keogh. A beautiful ‘Morning Reflection’ video was shown to the congregation, leading them through a series of images and music and ending with a haunting rendition of ‘I Arise Today, a musical arrangement of the ancient text of St . Patricks’ Breastplate. This was followed by a second video which focused on Pope Francis’ words on family life today, which included personal testimonies from a number of families across Ireland.
Music for the liturgy was provided by Knock Choir and included a number of hymns to Our Lady and guest performances from Sibéal Ní Chasaide and Anne Marie Gibbons. The was followed by a beautiful Witness Ceremony which involved representatives from the parish of Knock reading aloud extracts from the original testimonies given by the 15 Knock witnesses following the Apparition in 1879. Two of the youngest witnesses representatives greeted Pope Francis in the Apparition Chapel.
When Pope Francis arrived, he immediately made his way amongst the crowd in the Pope Mobile, cheered along by a sea of blue flags and smiling faces. Once outside the Apparition Chapel, the Holy Father was greeted by Fr Richard Gibbons, PP and Rector of Knock Shrine and Archbishop Michael Neary. He entered the Chapel for a few short moments for silent prayer. Here, he was given a taper by two local children to light a candle which was placed in a floral display in front of the Apparition scene. This floral display was the work of Anne Lavin and the gardening team at Knock Shrine. The display was made using the hollowed-out trunk of a storm-damaged tree . Amid the dead chiselled wood, the candle symbolises the light of hope spoken of by the witnesses of the Apparition. His Holiness then made his way to the the outdoor stage which was beautifully adorned with flowers and dressed with impressive backdrops representing the Apparition Mosaic in Knock Basilica.
His Holiness addressed the congregation, giving the following address:
[blockquote animation=”” author=”” ]Dear Brothers and Sisters, I thank God for this opportunity, in the context of the World Meeting of Families, to visit this Shrine, so dear to the Irish people. I thank Archbishop Neary and the Rector, Father Gibbons, for their warm welcome. In the Apparition Chapel, I lifted up to Our Lady’s loving intercession all the families of the world, and, in a special way, your families, the families of Ireland. Mary our Mother knows the joys and struggles felt in each home. Holding them in her Immaculate Heart, she brings them with love to the throne of her Son. As a remembrance of my visit, I have presented the Shrine with a golden rosary. I know how important the tradition of the family rosary has been in this country. Who can tell how many hearts, of fathers, mothers and children alike, have drawn comfort and strength over the years from meditating on Our Lady’s participation in the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of Christ’s life! Mary our Mother is also the Mother of the Church, and it is to her that we commend today the journey of God’s faithful people on this emerald isle. We ask that our families be sustained in their efforts to advance Christ’s Kingdom and to care for the least of our brothers and sisters. Amid the storms and winds that buffet our times, may they be a bulwark of faith and goodness, resisting, in the best traditions of this nation, all that would diminish our dignity as men and women created in God’s image and called to the sublime destiny of eternal life. May Our Lady also look with mercy on all the suffering members of her Son’s family. In my prayer before her statue, I presented to her in particular all the victims of abuse of whatever kind committed by members of the Church in Ireland. None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence and left scarred by painful memories. This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice. I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family. I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur. My pilgrimage to Knock also allows me to address a warm greeting to the beloved people of Northern Ireland. Although my Journey for the World Meeting of Families does not include a visit to the North, I assure you of my affection and my closeness in prayer. I ask Our Lady to sustain all the members of the Irish family to persevere, as brothers and sisters, in the work of reconciliation. With gratitude for advance of ecumenism, and the significant growth of friendship and cooperation between the Christian communities, I pray that all Christ’s followers will support the continuing efforts to advance the peace process and to build a harmonious and just society for today’s children. Now, with these intentions, and all the intentions hidden in our hearts, let us turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the prayer of the Angelus. [/blockquote]