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Boston pilgrims make historic pilgrimage to Ireland's Knock Shrine

By Mark Labbe Pilot Staff
Posted: 7/29/2016

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Cardinal O'Malley returns to family homestead in Mayo and celebrates Mass at the Shrine of Knock. Photo courtesy/CardinalSeansBlog

KNOCK -- As the historic first Aer Lingus plane from Boston to Knock, Ireland touched down on a runway at Ireland West Airport Knock, July 15, a crowd of people stood by to the welcome the passengers of the flight -- among them Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and a number of pilgrims with the Archdiocese of Boston.

"When we arrived in Knock, we were met by the very impressive delegation of the Archbishop of Tuam, Archbishop Michael Neary; Sir Joseph Kennedy, the chairperson of the Board of Directors of the airport who is a Knight Commander of the Papal Order of St. Gregory and was in full uniform with plumes and sword; Father Richard Gibbons, the rector of the Knock Shrine; and Al McDonnell, the Cathaoirleach of the Mayo County Council," said Cardinal O'Malley in his weekly blog.

The pilgrims' arrival marked the beginning of a seven day stay in Western Ireland, where they toured many of Western Ireland's historical spiritual sites, including the Abbey Well Ballyshannon, the "Holy Mountain" Croagh Patrick, and Ballintubber Abbey, as well as several of the country's secular attractions before departing for Boston on July 21.

The highlight of the trip, however, was a special Mass of rededication of the Basilica of Our Lady of Knock, or Knock Shrine, at which Cardinal O'Malley acted as the celebrant, July 16. The Mass marked the 40th anniversary of the original dedication of Knock Basilica on July 18, 1976.

"Pope Francis has said that the Face of God is mercy. We come to Knock as pilgrims to glimpse that face, to be transformed ourselves so that we can take God's mercy to the world," he said in his homily.

"Being a pilgrim is responding to an invitation to receive Christ's message and be unburdened by Him who invites us: "Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.'' We come to rest, to glimpse the revelation and to be renewed, but we also come to shoulder Jesus' yoke and learn from the one who is truly meek and humble of heart," he said.

Located in County Mayo, Knock Shrine is the location of an apparition of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist, and a lamb and a cross on an altar that appeared on Aug. 21, 1879, at the gable wall of the Parish Church in Knock.

Fifteen people, between the ages of five and 74 years old, witnessed the apparition, and although it was raining, they said that the gable and the vision remained dry.

The witnesses gave testimonies to a Commission of Enquiry in October of that year, and the commission found the testimonies to be truthful.

"It is here that generations of pilgrims have experienced that God and Mary are indeed with us. As Pope John Paul said, pilgrims came here, especially those who are suffering, and they are healed, comforted, and confirmed in their faith," the cardinal said in his homily.

"The Irish have carried the faith to the ends of the earth, but this shrine of Knock is a place where Ireland's faith is nurtured. I am pleased to know that Knock is the most visited place in Ireland," he continued.

In his blog, the cardinal noted that in addition to the Boston pilgrims, "practically every bishop in Ireland" attended the Mass, as did "the papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Kevin O'Malley, Taoiseach Enda Kenny," and a number of representatives from different Catholic organizations and associations.

"Lord Mayor of West Roxbury" Richie Gormley, one of the Boston pilgrims, noted that the Mass was "very beautiful," and said he counted "over 80 priests there."

Gormley helped organize the historic flight to Airport Knock, which he said was "most enjoyable flight I ever had in my life."

"It was very inspirational," he said, noting that he was honored to have been able to fly with Cardinal O'Malley.

"Cardinal O'Malley was a great host, and we were all there to support him," said Gormley.