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Pilgrimages respond to need in human heart, bishop says at Knock

Addressing worshippers at the annual novena, Bishop of Rathoe Philip Boyce remarks on rise in pilgrims while church attendances decline

Knock Shrine, Co Mayo. More than 100,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the Marian shrine over the nine days of the novena. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A contradictory trend in Catholicism worldwide – a marked decline in church attendances while the numbers participating in pilgrimages is increasing – was remarked upon at the weekend by the Bishop of Raphoe, Philip Boyce.

Addressing worshippers at the annual national novena at Knock Shrine, Bishop Boyce said pilgrimages responded to a need in the human heart.

Over the past half century, he said, the number of people who frequented church services had gone down noticeably, at least in the western world.

Yet, he added, the number of people who went on pilgrimages to shrines in these same secularised countries had steadily increased.

The bishop continued: “Millions go to Lourdes, to Fatima, to the Jasna Góra in Czestochowa, to Compostella, to Guadalupe and to Knock every year.

“The manner of travel may have changed over the centuries – no longer the long trek on foot with a pilgrim’s pack on one’s back. The motor car, the train or the plane make the journey more pleasant. Hotels provide modern shelter and comfort, good meals are provided. But what has not changed is the basic attitude of journeying to a holy place where the pilgrim hopes to have a deeper encounter with the living God and gain new hope and energy for the onward journey.”

More than 100,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the Marian shrine over the nine days of the novena. The theme is “Witness to Hope” and focuses on honouring the 15 people who witnessed the apparition of Our Lady in 1879.

On Thursday, the 135th anniversary of the apparition, parish priest of Knock Fr Richard Gibbons will outline to pilgrims his “vision for Knock” strategy which involves the complete refurbishment of the basilica.

Large numbers of younger people and parents are expected on Wednesday when Elma Walsh, mother of the inspirational Donal Walsh from Co Kerry who died from cancer earlier this year, delivers a talk on teenage suicide.