Rain can't quench spirit as pilgrims flock to see Pope Francis in Knock

Rain can't quench spirit as pilgrims flock to see Pope Francis in Knock
Pope Francis waves to the crowds as he leaves Knock. Photo: Maxwells

Catherine Shanahan, In Knock

In Knock, they're hardcore.

Only a hardcore Francis fan could have hefted themselves out of bed on a stinking wet night to head for Knock Shrine where crowd control measures meant completing the final few kilometres on Shank's Mare, or in some cases, a far longer walk, on account of an 8km tailback, leading many to jettison their cars.

In Knock, they're hardy. Torrential rain, possibly the worst of the summer, was never going to quench the tenacity of spirit that secured them an unlikely airport and an even more unlikely second papal visit in less than 40 years.

In Knock they're tolerant: No-one batted an eyelid at a ceremony where the main speaker either didn't speak at all (silent prayer in the Apparition Chapel) or spoke in languages they didn't understand (Italian and Latin).

Pope Francis waves to the crowds from his Popemobile in Knock. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Pope Francis waves to the crowds from his Popemobile in Knock. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

No surprise at these attributes if you consider their mentor, now buried behind the Basilica, is still fulfilling wishes from the grave

It seems Monsignor James Horan's dying wish was for a second papal visit, with use of the Pope Mobile, after Pope John Paul II failed to travel through the crowd during his 1979 visit to the Shrine,

Yesterday, his former parishioners had the thrill of being blessed from the Pope Mobile as it tore around the grounds, making up time lost earlier in the day's schedule.

Francis was running behind when he arrived, but the miracle of the morning was that he arrived at all, given the mist engulfing what one Fine Gael minister once described as the "foggy, boggy hill" that is Ireland West Airport.

PopeFrancis exits the plane at Knock Aiport. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
PopeFrancis exits the plane at Knock Aiport. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Flown in on the wings of St Aidan, an Aer Lingus airbus, by the time he arrived at the Shrine, he was almost a half hour late, leaving event hosts, Paul Keogh and Una Nolan, with the tricky task of keeping tired pilgrims from wilting.

The crowds, well shy of the 45,000 expected with a couple of hundred seats empty and plenty standing room, were treated to superb musical entertainment thanks to Knock Parish Choir and Associates, as well as extracts from the sworn testimonies of the 15 witnesses whose vision, literally, back in 1879, made Knock what it is today.

What everyone really wanted though was for Francis to arrive, and when he did, a roar went up as a giant TV screen showed him stepping on board the Pope Mobile.

Job done, he headed to the Apparition Chapel for a moment of quiet prayer, seated on a chair made especially for the occasion. Outside, the crowd waited in silence, as the Pope presented rosary beads to the Shrine, assisted by Shrine Rector Richard Gibbons.

He emerged onto a specially constructed altar to deliver a speech that appeared largely well received.

His "Good Morning", elicited a roar of approval that grew more rapturous as he said: "I am really happy to be with you today in the House of Our Lady in the context of the World Meeting of Families".

He quickly got down to more serious matters, telling the assembly that he had prayed to Our Lady and "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," he said.

His speech, delivered in Italian, was brief, and he followed it with the Angelus, recited in Latin, before being presented on the altar with a replica of Our Lady of Knock as featured on a giant mosaic inside the nearby Basilica. Then he was gone.

As it was all done and dusted inside 40 minutes, the obvious question to ask was: "Was it worth all the effort?"

The answer was yes, from anyone this newspaper asked, although asking willing pilgrims is like preaching to the converted.

Pilgrims arrive at Knock well prepared for the rain. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Pilgrims arrive at Knock well prepared for the rain. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Maria Byrne, who lives in Dublin, but whose family is from around Knock, lays claim to being, "a gaol fada amach" (extremely distant relation) to the visionaries of 1879. She travelled down after work on Friday, three generations in tow, including her parents, her 11-year-old daughter Kate Hardy and son Hugo Byrne.

"We were up at 3am and had to walk three-and-a-half miles. It was wet and we are cold and drenched, but we are here, " she said.

Finbarr O'Shea, a retired garda from Drimoleague, West Cork, had travelled up with his wife Kathleen, and friends JJ and Mary Barrett from Ballineen.

Finbarr had a special story to tell - he accompanied Pope John Paul II into the Apparition Chapel in 1979.

"I was a plain clothes detective. One of my bosses said 'Go in with him". It was the highlight of my year. He went in and prayed but if you look at the video of it, you will see my face on TV," he said.

Kathleen felt the Pope did well and that he said the right things in relation to abuse, but that he was between a rock and a hard place. Finbarr said the Church was "like any organisation, you just have to pull along with it".

Finbarr's 1979 experience meant he had good insight into the scale of yesterday's security operation - and there was no comparison with 1979, when it was more or less a free for all.

John McGrath, from Boyle, Co Roscommon, was also there in 1979 and remembers people crying looking for cars because it was getting dark when they left the Basilica grounds and they couldn't remember or find where they had parked.

John's s hardcore Francis fan.

The Pope, he says, is "a great man to be travelling around, it's not easy, and he comes in for a lot of criticism.

It will take somebody with nobility like him to restore the Church back to what it was.

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