Knock Shrine has reported an increase in pilgrim numbers over the past year, boosted in part by the historic visit of Pope Francis.
Some 45,000 tickets to see the Pontiff at the Co. Mayo Marian shrine were snapped up in just four hours. And while disappointment was expressed that inclement weather affected numbers at the Phoenix Park Mass in Dublin, rain didn’t dampen spirits as the Pope arrived to a West awake.
Fr Richard Gibbons, the rector of the site, told The Irish Catholic this week that “in a phrase, Knock is flying. It really is. Our numbers are fantastic, even over the [Christmas] holidays but especially over the papal visit, of course”.
Fr Gibbons said he is hopeful that the growth will continue, particularly as plans are now underway to mark the 140th anniversary of the apparition in August.
“We’re very happy with the way things are going,” he said. “We do see an increase in numbers and we’re very happy with our young people’s programmes”.
He said that “we have a wonderful faithful renewal group here at the shrine and we’re looking at every opportunity on which to build on what has happened over the last number of years in terms of the refurbishment [of the basilica], the Stations [of the Cross], the mosaic, the papal visit – just the kind of the renewal programmes that we have here”.
Fr Richard’s comments come as Ireland West Airport has reported record numbers, with 772,000 passengers using the airport last year. Although Fr Gibbons says there is “no necessary combination between their increase in numbers and increasing numbers at the shrine”, he points out that new routes through the airport help boost Knock’s profile.
“Just recently there was a route opened to Cologne, so that will open up the heartland of Germany for us,” he said, adding that the shrine is currently exploring how to encourage pilgrimages from the Archdiocese of Cologne and nearby dioceses.
At the same time, he cautioned, the shrine is not taking anything for granted. “We don’t sit back and say that’s wonderful, we’re back on the map and therefore we can take our foot off the pedal,” he said, adding that the shrine will shortly be announcing “a host of different programmes”.