08 August 2023, The Tablet

Knock Novena takes the theme ‘Caring for Creation’

The shrine has enjoyed “excellent” pilgrim numbers since the start of this year.

Knock Novena takes the theme ‘Caring for Creation’

The Apparition Chapel at Knock Shrine, built against the gable wall of the Church of St John the Baptist where 15 villagers saw the 1879 Apparition.
Bob Munroe / flickr | Creative Commons

This year’s National Novena at Knock Shrine in the west of Ireland will take the theme of “Caring for Creation”, with workshops, screenings of The Letter and a popular family day to offer an experience “as varied and as attractive as possible”, according to parish priest Fr Richard Gibbons.

The Novena to Our Lady of Knock on 14-22 August will feature speakers including Fr John Joe Duffy, whose parish of Creeslough was devastated by a deadly explosion in October, and Elma Walsh, who started the Live Life foundation in memory of her son Donal.

“There’s nothing like a personal story,” Fr Gibbons told The Tablet.  “You can see it with the congregation in the basilica when a story hits home.”

He said that the speakers, who include bishops and individuals working in initiatives on synodality and stewarding creation, would offer a “lived expression of faith”.

There will also be tours of the 100-acre grounds of the shrine led by the staff of Knock Museum, explaining the history of the apparition – of Our Lady, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and an altar, cross and lamb – witnessed by 15 villagers on 21 August 1879.

The twice-daily novena ceremonies, at 3pm and 8pm in Knock Basilica, will have a sign language interpreter present on 15 and 21 August.

Fr Gibbons said that the shrine needed to present itself to people who “might not know Knock is, or might not have heard about it since they were at school”. The novena would welcome those “who just come in out of curiosity”, he said.

Pilgrim numbers in Knock have been “excellent” this year, Fr Gibbons said, following a slow post-Covid 2022 for the County Mayo shrine. 

He said that Knock’s publicity had benefited from a visit by President Joe Biden in April this year and from the attention of Pope Francis, who visited in 2018 and in 2021 officially recognised it as an international Eucharistic and Marian Shrine.  This acknowledged the presence of the Lamb of God upon the altar unique to the Knock apparition.

The shrine offers a sense of the Church which people do not encounter in their everyday, Fr Gibbons continued.  It provides “a respite – a retreat – away from the madding crowd”.

“We don’t examine what level of faith you have when you come here, but something might strike you,” he said.  It is “a space that imposes nothing on you, wants nothing from you”, but nevertheless leads people to participate. 

Fr Gibbons noted the many visitors who receive the sacrament of reconciliation at the shrine after years’ delay.  Confessions, he said, remain “the powerhouse of Knock”.

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