Fr Richard Gibbons, PP Rector of Knock Shrine, has announced that the National Novena to Our Lady of Knock is postponed until perhaps later this year, depending on latest Government guidance.
The Novena that began in 1977 and has continued in unbroken tradition since, is a national and international event that takes place every year from August 14 to 22 and attracts as many as 150,000 pilgrims. It is a time of prayer that offers pilgrims a variety of guest speakers who reflect upon faith and contemporary society.
Fr Richard stated: "Having discussed at length the logistics, health and safety of organising the Novena, it is with heavy hearts that we have decided to postpone it.
"After careful assessment of all aspects, in line with current government guidelines, we feel that this is the right thing to do. This has been a very difficult decision that will cause a great deal of disappointment to pilgrims, it also has economic consequences for the wider community and the Shrine itself.
"However, the health and safety of our parishioners, pilgrims, priests, staff and volunteers is of paramount importance to us at this worrying time.
"As the Shrine has gradually reopened for Mass in recent weeks, we have successfully and safely restricted capacity for Masses. Even though the Shrine grounds cover over 100 acres, it would be impossible to control in a safe manner, large outdoor gatherings, which would undoubtedly come for the Novena."
While the Novena is postponed, the Shrine will remain open to welcome individuals and family groups and will continue to offer Daily Masses in Knock Basilica at 12 noon, 3pm and 7.30pm with restricted capacity and on a first-come, first-served basis. Pilgrims may avail of Confession in the Chapel of Reconciliation. The Parish Church is available for private prayer and pilgrims can light candles. In all these locations strict queueing and social distancing measures apply.
Fr Richard continued: "During lockdown Knock Shrine was at the forefront in reaching out to people online by the streaming of daily masses via our website and Facebook page. Pilgrims were invited to place a petition or light a candle while they were unable to visit their local churches.
"We realised the huge importance of our online services during lockdown and what it meant to people to be able to connect with us each day. Our online services will continue to play an important role in enabling us to stay connected with our pilgrims.”
He added: "It is with great dissapointment that we have to postpone the highlight of the annual pilgrimage season at Knock Shrine. I take this opportunity to encourage the people of Ireland and beyond to pray the Novena prayer in their own homes and parishes for the month of August so that we may be united in prayer.
"The Novena prayer can be found on our website. The proposed theme for this year’s Novena was ‘Faith in changing times’. Here at Knock Shrine as we respond to the present challenges of the coronavirus, we continue “to pray with you and for you” as we look forward with faith and hope to brighter days. We thank everyone for their patience and cooperation."