Pope Francis's visit to Ireland later this month could be the catalyst for the renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland, according to the parish priest of Knock, Fr Richard Gibbon, who is leading preparations for the visit there.
Forty-five thousand people are expected to gather at the Marian Shrine on Saturday, August 26th: "I think the papal visit will give us a sense that we're something bigger than ourselves," Fr Gibbons told journalists.
“The Church might be thought of as being in the doldrums in Ireland, but it’s an exciting time for the Church – not only here, but in other parts of the world,” he said, adding that he hoped the pope would speak about child abuse committed by religious in Ireland.
“We’re hoping the occasion will be a beautiful day. Child of Prague statues are selling out all over Knock. We’re not getting a lot of sleep and the pace has been frenetic,” he declared.
The Pope is expected to arrive in Knock Shrine at 9.50 am, after arriving in Knock Airport at 9.20am. Ceremonies begin at 8.30am, with the public urged to arrive in the shrine by no later than 7.30am.
The event is fully booked and no further tickets will be issued. Everyone is being asked to use public transport. Most people will have to stand. Limited seating is being offered to locals, and people with disabilities and their carers.
Tickets will be delivered by post, in all cases, said Brenda Drumm of the Catholic Communications Office. "If you comply with directions, you will enjoy your day in Knock. It is important people do a little homework before their visit."
The pontiff will arrive at the Apparition Chapel, where he will pray privately for 15 minutes, Fr Gibbons told journalists. “All 45,000 people attending will get to see the pope who will be using a popemobile.”
This event is bigger than president Obama and the queen's visit
He will then recite the Angelus before presenting a set of gold rosary beads to Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary. He will depart Knock Shrine at 10.50am before returning to Knock Airport.
One thousand volunteers will be on duty. The grounds of the shrine will open from 4.30am. Visitors who come by public transport will have no more than 1km to walk. However, those who come by car will have to walk 3km or more.
"We will have welfare centres along the walking routes. We want people to have a relaxed time. This event is bigger than president Obama and the queen's visit. In 1993, we had 50,000 people here for Mother Teresa's visit.
“It’s an exciting time for us here in Knock – we’re really looking forward to it. Knock is thriving and we know what we’re doing here. We recently upgraded the Basilica and Parish Church,” said Fr Gibbons.
An Garda Síochána has had a visible presence in the village for the last month, while improvements to footpaths and roundabouts, along with landscaping, are well advanced.
Sinéad Mallee, secretary of the Knock Community Futures committee, said locals “feel” privileged that a small town in the West of Ireland would be hosting a papal visit.