By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
Pope Francis sent a video message to the Irish faithful on Friday marking the elevation of the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock to the status of International Marian and Eucharistic Shrine.
“I gladly take advantage of this means of communication in order to be with you at such an important moment in the life of the Shrine,” the Pope said.
The date chosen for the occasion is 19 March, the liturgical solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Ever since the apparition of August 21, 1879, when the Blessed Virgin Mary, together with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Apostle, appeared to some villagers,” the Pope said, “the Irish people, wherever they have found themselves, have expressed their faith and devotion to Our Lady of Knock.”
Following the apparitions 142 years ago, Knock has become one of Ireland’s popular religious sites, welcoming thousands of pilgrims annually. In 1979, Pope St. John Paul II visited the Shrine. Pope Francis also visited Knock in August 2018 during his Apostolic Visit to the country as part of the World Meeting of Families.
A missionary people
Acknowledging the many Irish priests that left their homeland in order to become “missionaries of the Gospel,” as well as the many lay people who emigrated to far-away lands but still kept their devotion to Our Lady, Pope Francis highlighted the service of the Church in Ireland to the faith.
“You are a missionary people,” he said.
“How many families in the course of almost a century-and-a-half have handed on the faith to their children and gathered their daily labours around the prayer of the Rosary, with the image of Our Lady of Knock at its centre.”
The great value of silence
“The arms of the Virgin, outstretched in prayer, continue to show us the importance of prayer as the message of hope which goes out from this Shrine,” the Pope affirmed.
He recalled that in the apparition of Our Lady at Knock, “the Virgin says nothing”, yet, her silence is a language – “the most expressive language we have.” The message from Knock, therefore, is that of the “great value of silence for our faith”.
This silence in the face of mystery does not mean giving up on understanding, but rather “understanding while aided and supported by the love of Jesus,” the Pope explained. It is also a silence in the “face of the great mystery of a love which cannot be reciprocated unless in trusting abandonment to the will of the merciful Father.”
The Holy Father further noted that this is the silence that Jesus asks of us in the Gospel of Matthew: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:6-8).
The responsibility of welcoming all
Pope Francis went on to emphasize the “great responsibility” attached to the newly elevated International Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock.
“You accept to always have your arms wide open as a sign of welcome to every pilgrim who may arrive from any part of the world, asking nothing in return but only recognizing him as a brother or a sister who desires to share the same experience of fraternal prayer,” the Pope urged.
He further expressed his desire that this welcome may “be joined with charity and become an effective witness to a heart that is open to receiving the Word of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit which gives us strength.”
Concluding his message with an invocation of God’s blessings upon everyone, Pope Francis prayed that the Eucharistic Mystery, which unites us in communion with Jesus and with one another, may “always be the rock on which to live faithfully our vocation as ‘missionary disciples’ like Mary. He also implored Our Lady to “protect and console us with her merciful countenance.”