First transatlantic pilgrimage flight arrives in Knock
Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan among those on inaugural flight
Cardinal TImothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Brian O’Dwyer, International Chairman of Knock Airport arriving on the Aer Lingus flight carrying pilgrims from New York. Photograph: Keith Heneghan
The group, most of whom have never been to Ireland before, was led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the leader of the Catholic faithful in New York.
Early grey skies at the Co Mayo airport failed to dampen the mood of the pilgrimage party who tucked into hearty Irish breakfasts prior to a welcoming reception.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny, one of the welcoming dignitaries, drew laughter when, gesturing to the conditions outside, he told pilgrims “they were being bathed in the soft waters of baptism in the west of Ireland”.
Mr Kenny said the day was one of exceptional importance not just for Knock but the whole of Ireland.
“There is no reason why Knock cannot take its places on the pedestal of the most important [pilgrimage] shrines of the world such as Lourdes and Fatima,” he said.
Welcoming the pilgrims, the Archbishop of Tuam Dr Michael Neary described it as an absolutely wonderful occasion.
“This pilgrimage reminds us of the role New York has played in welcoming our people in very difficult times indeed. The pilgrimage is testament to the tenacity of faith in our culture today”.
Knock Airport chairman Joe Kennedy, who had flown out to New York in order to fly back to Ireland with the pilgrims, described the occasion as one of the happiest days of his life.
“It is a miracle, a dream come true, hopefully there will be many more days like this,” he said.
Cardinal Dolan, who was invited by Knock parish priest Fr Richard Gibbons, to lead a pilgrimage to Co Mayo, spoke briefly at the welcoming reception. “Lord, it is good to be here,” he said simply.
Two members of the New York-based Franciscan Sisters of Renewal, Sister Maria Terese and Sister Frances, were amongst those queueing for breakfasts.
“We don’t know much about Knock,” Sr Maria confessed. “It sounds a wonderful, holy, place”.
She explained: “We were invited by Cardinal Dolan. He is very fatherly, a wonderful, holy person.”
Husband and wife Dr Steve Pavela and his wife, Jeanne, and Jeane Pavela travelled from Wisconsin in the American heartland.
“This trip has a nice friendly, feel to it,” Dr Steve said.
His wife Jeane interrupted: “We feel very important. Just imagine, the prime minister of Ireland has come out to welcome us.”
The welcoming party at Knock included the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Cardinal John Brown.
Following the airport reception, the pilgrimage party was ferried in a fleet of coaches to Knock Basilica for a special Mass of welcome at midday which was televised live by RTÉ.
On Friday, Cardinal Dolan will officially open the annual Knock Novena. He will be speaking on the theme of “Faith and Family”.
During the coming days, an extensive series of tours have been arranged for the visiting pilgrims. Places to be visited include the Cliffs of Moher, Killarney and Lough Derg on the borders of Donegal and Fermanagh.