Maria hunt

Knock prepares for Pope Francis

The basilica at Knock.

By Maura Mulligan

Walking around the grounds of Knock Shrine, a few days ago with an old friend, Terence Flanagan, who is a “meet and greet” volunteer at the shrine, I noticed the place is buzzing with preparations for Pope Francis’s visit. Houses and shop fronts are freshly painted and everyone is talking about the big occasion. According to local reports here, Pope Francis will fly by plane from Dublin to Knock airport on Sunday Aug. 26. He will then travel by motorcade along the N17. I realize that he’ll actually pass my now roofless two-room schoolhouse where once we stood around the turf fire and answered catechism questions when Pope Pius XII was leader of the church. It was always the first subject on the schoolmaster’s schedule for the day.

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According to the Knock Shrine Information Center staff final details of the pope’s schedule are still being worked out. He will visit the chapel at Knock and say the Angelus on the square in front of the world- famous Marian Shrine.

The small village will be teaming with people. Farmers are making fields available for parking and Garda vans are already parked on all approach roads around the clock making sure there is no illegal parking. Some locals are complaining that the Traveler community parking is an issue “because they want to be here weeks ahead of time and have a good spot.” The Travelers have a long tradition of coming to Knock in large numbers for the annual novena held from Aug. 14-22 to commemorate the apparition of 1879. I heard that Gardaí are working in close co-operation with Knock Shrine authorities to block any attempts to set up an illegal encampment. The Garda checkpoints on all approach roads to Knock are expected to continue until after the pope has departed.

What’s left of the Doogary School on the N17 on Pope Francis’s parade route. Pope Pius XII was pontiff when Maura Mulligan learned her catechism in the two-room school.

An issue not affecting Knock is The “Nope to the Pope” campaign. This has caused a significant number of tickets to be acquired by those who had no intention of using them in Dublin. The purpose was to leave rows of vacant seats at Phoenix Park so as to embarrass the Irish church authorities. I met with Maria Hunt, in charge of marketing and communications at Knock Shrine to ask if this affected Knock. She acknowledged that the campaign does exist in Dublin but indicated that it’s being dealt with.

Spokesperson Maria Hunt says that Knock Shrine has not been affected by false bookings that was issue with the World Meeting of Families 2018.

“A relatively small number of false bookings were made under the ‘Nope to the Pope’ campaign, which had been block-booking tickets which it never planned to use in a bid to suppress turnout, preventing others who wanted to attend from going,” she said.

“Dishonest booking were made for the Phoenix Park, however Knock Shrine was unaffected by false bookings.” Ms. Hunt assured me. She further explained that false bookings, were identified by the ticket organizers for the World Meeting of Families 2018, who were able to put the tickets back into the system for others to use.

Garda checkpoints will be set up at all approach roads to Knock.

An issue causing disquiet in Knock is that some parishioners who wanted tickets for the pope’s visit didn’t get them because they didn’t see the parish newsletter about filling out a special form. Ms. Hunt said it’s “highly unlikely” that this is an issue but acknowledged that it is something to which the organizers need to pay more attention.

After his visit to Knock, the Pope will fly back to Dublin for a 3 p.m. Mass in the Phoenix Park where crowds will be limited to 600,000 by Gardaí and city authorities for health and safety reasons. In 1979, over one million people attended the Mass by John Paul II in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

According to a report I read in the Irish Times, the pope’s visit to Knock is believed to be at his own instigation. He has a particular devotion to Mary and earlier this year instituted a new feast in her honor as Mother of the Church. It is to be celebrated on the first Monday after Pentecost every year, which was May 21 this year.