Fostering a faithful future

Knock’s faith formation programme hopes in time to serve the whole Irish Church, Greg Daly reports

Knock Shrine is changing, and faith renewal is envisaged as being at the centre of Knock Shrine’s future, according to Úna Nolan, the shrine’s director of music.

 “When Fr Richard first got the idea of refurbishing the basilica and renewing Knock in general, he carried out surveys and something that came back very strongly in the surveys was that people wanted something else, and had an appetite for something more.

 This is where the notion of faith formation – or faith renewal or development or whatever – came about,” she explains.

 As part of the ‘Witness to Hope’ project, faith renewal has become – with the basilica’s refurbishment and the shrine’s promotion – one of the three strands in the shrine’s development plan, and is “probably the most important one”.  


Given how important faith renewal is, it matters to get it right and so the shrine’s Faith Formation Council is taking the time to do so. Úna explains that the group was only assembled in March, and consists of herself, prayer guidance director Patricia McCarthy, youth ministry co-ordinator Helen Ralph, shrine rector Fr Richard Gibbons and curate Fr Patrick Burke, Fr Brian Grogan SJ, Fr Michael Duignan, Fr Pat Farragher and Msgr Dermot Maloney.

 “We’re trying to come to the bottom of this,” she says, explaining how a facilitating meeting was organised with the staff of Knock Shrine, intended as “a think-in day”. Describing as “amazing” the kinds of things people proposed, she says “there were some really good, meaty ideas there” that could form starting points for medium- and long-term projects.

 “We’ll be looking for ideas and different ways to involve people, to get people back to Church, families as well – it’s nice to see people coming round with small kids,” she says, although in the meantime the group isn’t sitting still.

 “Just in the short term we thought we’d put something on for the back end of this year, just to be making a start and we’re going to have to start getting our teeth into it now and getting some good ideas for faith renewal,” she says.

 “So at the moment we’ve come up with a programme for the Autumn to Winter, from October to December,” she continues, “and we’ve come up with a few different things that are like feelers to see what people are interested in.”

As an example of what the programme will entail, she says, “We’ve a very strong prayer guidance centre here, so they came up with a nice retreat – they’re calling it ‘Quiet days for busy people’, so it’s a day-long escape, I suppose, where there’ll be prayer guidance, talks, input, and that sort of thing. 

“We’re hoping to see will that sate an appetite for anybody. It’s not aimed directly at a certain group – we’ll leave it open and see who’ll come along.”

 The one-day retreats are due to take place on October 3, November 7 and December 5, but the Autumn-Winter programme won’t stop there. “We’ve also got Fr Brian Grogan, the Jesuit, who’s part of our council and was involved in the founding of the prayer guidance centre here,” she says, explaining that he will be running two day-long workshops in October and November on the papal exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

Enrichment day

“Also, we have Fr Sean McDonagh and he’s going to talk on the encyclical Laudato Si, so that’s something coming up now as well,” she continues, adding, “And also we’re going to do an enrichment day for pastoral councils, where maybe two or three members of pastoral councils will come together here; they’ll be able to talk to each other and they’ll have some input from – hopefully – Donal Harrington.”

 The entire faith renewal project will entail making Knock into a place that can serve the entire Irish Church, she continues. 

“Long term our hopes would be nationally, obviously,” she says, “that we would see ourselves as a national resource more than anything, so we’re not going to try to lead the way, we’re not going to try to be the experts in anything – we’ll try that as well! – but the idea is to be a resource, to be able to make things available to people.”

 The challenge, she admits, is to establish what sort of things the group should be offering. “We have to come up with this,” she says, suggesting that the shrine might become a resource for parishes. 

“We have thought of maybe doing something for pastoral councils, as a kind of a reflective day for pastoral councils, to come away and maybe take a break away from the slog of issues, and kind of get in touch with themselves,” she says. “So, that would be a resource – we’re still looking into it, we’ve only had four or five meetings so it’s early stages.”

 Another possibility might actually be the production of materials and programmes like the Alpha Course that others might use in the wider Irish Church, but Úna is uncertain of whether that’s a direction the shrine is likely to go down.

 “People have mentioned the Alpha thing, and it seems to be very successful and people seem to go for it, so yeah – I’m not sure whether we will look into kind of producing a course like this ourselves, or maybe be the place where it is put on, that people come here to it,” she says.

 “We’re still in very early stages: as you’re asking the questions, we’re kind of asking them ourselves. What do we do? How do we do it?”

 The key to thinking of Knock, other than its obvious spiritual role, is as a sanctuary, Úna explains.

 “Even somebody that’s kind of struggling with their faith a bit can come to Knock, where you’re not kind of mocked for your faith or for your practicing,” she says, continuing, “I think it’s important to meet like-minded people, and be in a place that reinforces your own faith.  I think even for priests as well, it’s nice for priests to be able to come here too.”

 The shrine team are “facilitators” she explains, and are willing to put themselves at the service of anything that will help with faith renewal.

 “We see ourselves as a resource,” she reiterates, adding that when people visit, “we definitely would love to have lots of things happening here that people can come to: they feel secure, they’re in their sanctuary, and they can grow in their faith, maybe go to a day talk that educates them a little bit more in their faith”.

 “Simple things like that that could mean a lot to one person”, she says. “It’s little steps.”