Pope hails Irish missionary spirit as he elevates Knock to international status

Pope hails Irish missionary spirit as he elevates Knock to international status Candles on the sanctuary of the basilica at Knock Shrine during the Covid-19 remembrance Mass in November, 2020. Photo: Conor McKeown

Pope Francis has urged Irish Catholics to remember the great faith that Irish missionaries have brought to every corner of the world.

The Pope made the plea tonight (Friday) via a videolink to Knock Shrine where he formally elevated the site of the Virgin Mary’s apparition in 1879 as an international sanctuary of special Eucharistic and Marian devotion.

He said the elevation “is a great responsibility”.

“You accept to always have your arms wide open as a sign of welcome to every pilgrim who may arrive from any part of the world, asking nothing in return but only recognising him [or her] as a brother or a sister who desires to share the same experience of fraternal prayer,” he said.

Unique to the apparition at Knock is the representation of the Eucharist as the risen Lord which appeared as the Lamb on the altar, standing before his Cross and surrounded by a host of angels.

The Holy Father said that ever since the apparition on August 21, 1879: “the Irish people, wherever they have found themselves, have expressed their faith and devotion to Our Lady of Knock.

“You have been a missionary people. We cannot forget how many priests left their homeland in order to become missionaries of the Gospel. Nor can we forget the many lay people who emigrated to far-away lands but still kept their devotion to Our Lady,” he said.

Recalling the legacy of faith, the Pope said: “How many families in the course of almost a century and a half have handed on the faith to their children and gathered their daily labours around the prayer of the Rosary, with the image of Our Lady of Knock at its centre.

“The arms of the Virgin, outstretched in prayer, continue to show us the importance of prayer as the message of hope which goes out from this Shrine.

“As you know, in her apparition at Knock, the Virgin says nothing. Yet her silence is a language; indeed, it is the most expressive language we have. The message which comes from Knock is that of the great value of silence for our faith,” Pope Francis said.

He said that “It is this silence in the face of mystery, which does not mean giving up on understanding, but understanding while aided and supported by the love of Jesus who offered himself for all of us as the Lamb sacrificed for the salvation of humanity.

“It is this silence in the face of the great mystery of a love which cannot be reciprocated unless in trusting abandonment to the will of the merciful Father,” the Pope said.

Fr Richard Gibbons, rector of Knock Shrine said that: “Since the time of the apparition, Knock Shrine has been a place of hope and given comfort and consolation to people.

“The completely unique nature of the apparition scene is something that has fascinated and inspired people for generations. We are truly grateful for this recognition from Pope Francis, through the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation, which recognises Knock on an international level in terms of its special status as Marian and Eucharistic Shrine,” he said.

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, Knock has led the way in helping people to engage with their faith and offered daily religious services online. On November 22 last year, for example, the shrine celebrated a Mass of Remembrance for all who had died on the island of Ireland from Covid-19. Over 120,000 people joined in the Mass online. 3,000 candles were placed around the sanctuary of Knock Basilica, one candle to represent each person who died due to Covid-19 up to that time.

The story of Knock began on August 21, 1879 when Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of Knock parish church with the Lamb of God. The apparition was witnessed by 15 people. Today, Knock is an internationally-recognised Marian Shrine and was visited by Pope St John Paul II in 1979 as part of his apostolic pilgrimage, and in 2018 by Pope Francis as part of the celebrations in Ireland for the World Meeting of Families.