Knock airport welcomes first ever chartered pilgrimage flight from US
Thirty years after opening for business in the remote Mayo countryside, Ireland West (Knock) airport, welcomed its first ever chartered pilgrimage flight from North America today.
The Aer Lingus flight, with 178 pilgrims on board, landed in Knock at 8.30am and was greeted by a host of local political representatives including the Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
“There is no reason why Knock cannot stand on the pedestal of the great Marian Shrines of the World such as Lourdes or Fatima,” said Mr Kenny, adding “this day is one of exceptional importance for the people of the West of Ireland and we welcome our American visitors with open arms.”
The trans-Atlantic initiative was championed by the Rector at Knock Shrine Fr. Richard Gibbons and by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, who led the pilgrimage from JFK airport.
“We hope and pray this will be the first such trip of many from New York to Knock,” said Cardinal Dolan adding “we are so honoured to be part of this historic visit and will spread the word in America about what this beautiful part of Ireland has to offer.”
Local traditional Irish musicians played for pilgrims on arrival and locals turned out in big numbers to welcome the American pilgrims – many of whom were visiting Ireland for the first time. In Knock village red, white and blue ribbons were tied on trees and lamp posts and Vatican flags hung from windows.
Also on board was the Papal Nuncio to Ireland Charles John Brown who originally comes from New York.
Each year Knock Shrine receives around 1.6 million visitors and those involved in managing the Shrine hope further flights from abroad could see that figure grow to at least three million in the coming years.
After a welcome reception at Ireland West Airport the pilgrims visited the renovated Knock Shrine Basilica where Cardinal Dolan celebrated mass with RTE television broadcasting the event live.
Cardinal Dolan will officially launch the 2015 National Novena in Knock on August 14th, which is expected to attract up to 150,000 people over nine days.
The pilgrimage group will be based in hotels in Westport and their Irish itinerary will also include visits to Lough Derg, Dingle, the Ring of Kerry, Connemara, Killarney, West Clare and Dublin.