When RTÉ sports personality Marty Morrissey received a phone call inviting him to address the throngs of people attending the annual novena at Knock Shrine in Co Mayo, he thought it was a practical joke.
"I was honoured and delighted to be asked, not least as I'm no Holy Joe. Or Holy Marty," the broadcaster said of the invitation from Fr Richard Gibbons, parish priest at Knock.
“When Fr Richard called, I first thought someone was playing a prank.” But they weren’t and the GAA commentator will speak in the Basilica at the 3pm and 8.30pm Masses on Wednesday on the theme of “Living Life to the Full”. He will talk about the importance of a sense of community and a positive attitude to life as the annual novena enters its third day.
He intends speaking about “love, community, how important communication is and how action can be even more influential” and “the importance of just getting out there and doing things, of a ‘glass-half-full’ positivity”.
And there’s the GAA, not least at this time of year as the football and hurling championships come to a head. It helps “brings us all together in parish and village”, generating pride in people, said Morrissey. “All sport does . . . and if Galway play Clare, for example, no matter how tough the game, they will sit down together afterwards and have dinner.”
The Knock novena remains one of the best-attended religious events in Ireland every year
This was exemplified at Galway hurler Tony Keady's funeral last weekend. "Everyone was so proud of Tony Keady. He's an awful loss. I knew him reasonably well. To see the Tipp lads there [at the funeral] in their blue suits. There was such intense rivalry between Galway and Tipperary in the '80s. Sport can bring people together," he said.
In essence he will talk in Knock about his personal outlook on life and how a positive attitude has been integral to both his success as a professional commentator and in his personal life.
The Knock novena remains one of the best-attended religious events in Ireland every year and attracts an estimated 150,000 people on average over the nine days. This past couple of years it has been advertised on RTÉ One and RTÉ Two television and, for the first time this year, also on Newstalk radio.
A spokeswoman for Knock shrine said they had decided to do this as “there are so many distractions at this time of year”. The novena, she said, “can be a welcome escape” from them. Most who attend novena events do so for at least one day out of the nine, but up to 40 per cent take part over all nine days.
On Friday the Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam Patrick Rooke will speak at the 3pm and 8.30pm Masses on "Reformation, Remembering and Reconciliation", marking the beginnings of the Reformation 500 years ago. He will take a reflective look at relations between the churches today and explore paths to reconciliation.
On Monday the programme for next year’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin will be launched at the shrine by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and Fr Timothy Bartlett, secretary general of the 2018 event.