With hopes high this week in the Catholic community that Pope Francis will make the first papal visit to Ireland in almost 40 years following the announcement that Ireland will host the next World Families Meeting in 2018, there is great hope that if he does visit Ireland he will visit Knock Shrine.
Fr Richard Gibbons, parish priest and rector of Knock Shrine, told the Mayo Advertiser this week: "It's all bit soon to know anything for sure with it being three years away [World Familes Meeting], but if Pope Francis does decide to come to Ireland we will be ready to host him here in Knock Shrine and would be really looking forward to it.
The Pope made the announcement of the World Families Meeting taking place in Ireland at the end of his trip to the USA in Philadelphia. The last time a papal visit to Ireland occured was in 1979, when Pope John Paul II visited Dublin, Knock, Limerick, Drogheda, and Galway. His visit to Knock saw in the region of 450,000 people turn out for him.
Fr Gibbons added that he would be hopeful that if the visit does happen Knock would hold particular attraction for the current Pope. "Pope Francis has a particular interest in Our Lady, and Knock would be a particular place of interest for him if he does come to Ireland." Speaking about the effect a potential visit like this would have for Catholics in the country Fr Gibbons said: "It would be great, there's always a great interest from people to see the Holy Father and it brings a great feeling and lift to people to see him in their community."
Knock Shrine last weekend hosted the National Eucharistic Congress where Archbishop Martin said: "We have urged [Pope Francis] to come [to Ireland]. We have told him that we are really open to a visit and we are hoping that he will answer us very, very soon."
In August this year, 178 pilgrims landed on the first direct pilgrimage flight from New York in Ireland West Airport Knock, as Knock Shrine and the airport worked together to turn the shrine, which sees over 1.6 million visitors a year, into a major worldwide pilgrimage site, and a papal visit would be a further boost to those plans.