Greetings from the Shrine of Our Lady, Knock, County Mayo in the west of Ireland:
It was a grey, wet Thursday when Fr Ian, Fr Chris and I arrived at Knock. As the taxi drove us from the airport to the village, we could see the spire of the modern basilica and the tower of the older church. When that parish church was built in 1828, a plaque on the west wall read ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.’
It was on another wet Thursday in August 1879 that something happened to make that inscription a reality.
Mary Byrne and 14 other people, both young and old, witnessed an outdoor apparition of our Lady with St Joseph and St. John by an altar on which stood a lamb surrounded by angels. The beauty and the brightness shone out in the wet night air – a special moment when eternity touched this little village in county Mayo. Fr Cavanagh, the parish priest, had a great devotion to our Lady, and he had just finished saying a hundred masses for the departed. His people lived simple lives that were always threatened by poverty and famine. For them although there was no message from Mary, it was almost as if she had appeared with the saints and angels to say, ‘Yes, all is well and all shall be well.’
From that small beginning the fame of Knock spread, like the inscription, to all the nations. Through the vision and determination and sacrifice of successive parish priests and people, it became the national shrine of Ireland and each year attracts pilgrims from around the world. There is now a large basilica, a prayer guidance centre and a museum.
Our visit was a short one as we stayed only two nights, but in that time we shared in this remarkable story that is still unfolding. The worship and prayers of the shrine combined with the wonderful Irish hospitality to create a memorable visit.
The sun shone brightly on our second day just as the apparition had shone out for the villagers in 1879, and we left the shrine with the words of all the pilgrims who visit here: Our Lady of Knock, pray for us.
Fr Michael Burgess