KNOCK was buzzing yesterday with the official announcement that Pope Francis will visit the National Marian Shrine on Sunday, August 26. The imminent announcement of the news was clear to all at 12 noon Mass in Knock Basilica on Sunday when Fr Richard Gibbons, PP, just before the final blessing, announced with a bounce in the voice when referring to the visit … “Keep an eye on tomorrow!”
Major renovation works to both the Basilica and the Parish Church over the last three years, as well as to the church grounds, has Knock Shrine and environs looking resplendent. The official news yesterday was the culmination of a whole lot of behind-the scenes work over many months and represents a huge boost for Knock and Mayo.
Father Richard Gibbons said: “It is an honour to welcome Pope Francis to Knock Shrine on behalf of our pilgrims, parishioners and staff. We are humbled that the Holy Father will come to spend time with us in Knock to pray for families.
“Preparations are underway to make the visit of Pope Francis a wonderful moment of prayer for families across Ireland and across the world. We look forward to sharing the unique message of Knock with visitors from home and abroad. His Holiness has great devotion to Our Lady and also St Joseph, as represented on his Papal Coat of Arms. It is fitting that he should visit Knock, where an Apparition of Our Lady, St Joseph, St John and the Lamb of God was witnessed on 21st August 1879.”
Fr Richard said it was a source of great joy too that Pope Francis will arrive and depart from Knock Airport. Msgr James Horan was PP in Knock when Pope John Paul II made the first ever Papal Visit to Ireland and guided the celebrations when the Pope visited the Shrine to mark the centenary of the Apparition in 1979.
“Monsignor Horan, who was so instrumental in the development of the airport would be very proud to see this day,” added Fr Richard.
The Pope will travel by car from Knock Airport and is expected to spend one hour at the Shrine. Plans are in place to travel by ‘Popemobile’ through the crowd and return to the Apparition Chapel podium where he will lead the recitation of the Angelus.
It is expected that there will be a number of major road closures in the area and details of these will be announced closer to the arrival date.
Around the village, the feel good factor was palpable as locals looked forward with excitement to the weeks ahead. For John and Nuala Kelly who operate a B&B on the Kiltimagh Road, there was no doubting the immediate impact of the announcement.
“The phone has been hopping all day long and I’m sure it is the same at every other accommodation outlets around Knock and the neighbouring towns,” says John. “This is going to prove a massive boost for Knock and it is also good for the Airport down the road. It is likely that the focus on Knock will also see a major swell in numbers from now right through to August 26.”
John, a retired member of An Garda Síochána, was one of the few Knock people to miss the Pope’s visit in 1979. “I was on duty in Drogheda and Limerick Racecourse during his visits to those places and I watched his visit to Knock on television in County Clare. I will only have a few hundred yards to travel on this occasion!” says John.
Local Order of Malta man John Egan, who was central to the medical arrangements for the 1979 visit, will once again be in charge of the overall control of the medical side of matters on August 26.
“The national Order of Malta will be very much on board with us. We will have 170 personnel on duty, including doctors, nurses, paramedics and others, and also sixteen ambulances on stand-by. We will also erect two First-Aid tents. This will be a very well planned and coordinated operation,” says John Egan.
Joe Gilmore, Managing Director at Knock Airport said: “It will be both an honour and a privilege to welcome Pope Francis in August for what will be a historic first papal visit to the airport and the realisation of the vision of the airport founder Monsignor Horan.
“This will be a truly historic occasion and will showcase the airport, Knock Shrine and indeed the West of Ireland to a global audience of millions which will have a hugely positive impact for tourism to the region.
“I’d also like to recognise the hard work of Fr Richard Gibbons and his team in Knock who have worked tirelessly over the last number of months to make this happen and all at the airport looks forward to a great occasion in August.”
Michael Ring TD, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, said the news would be received with much enthusiasm all over the country.
“Knock has great significance for people of the Catholic faith in Ireland and the Pope’s decision to visit the basilica will no doubt be warmly welcomed.
“The visit of Pope John Paul II to Knock in 1979 was a seminal moment for the West of Ireland and the news that Pope Francis is to visit Knock is fantastic news for Mayo.
“I have no doubt that people from Mayo and beyond will turn out in great numbers to welcome Pope Francis on his visit to Knock Shrine.”
The Pope’s visit coincides with the hosting of the World Meeting of Families 2018 in Dublin which runs from August 21-26.