Friday 18 January 2019

Pope hopes to begin Ireland visit at Knock shrine

Gardaí concerned over large crowds at Phoenix Park Mass

Pope Francis waves to officials as he arrives at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (AP)
Pope Francis waves to officials as he arrives at the European Parliament in Strasbourg (AP)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Pope Francis hopes to begin his historic visit to Ireland in Knock, the Irish Independent understands.

Organisers of the pontiff's trip are believed to be exploring the idea of having him fly directly to the west of Ireland rather than Dublin as anticipated.

There has been much speculation about the type of welcome the Pope will receive - but sources say gardaí have concerns that as many as 650,000 people will want to see him in the Phoenix Park on August 26.

By holding another event at the Marian shrine in Co Mayo a day earlier they hope to offer an alternative viewing opportunity for people.

A massive crowd in Knock wait patiently for the arrival of Pope John Paul II in 1979
A massive crowd in Knock wait patiently for the arrival of Pope John Paul II in 1979

"The Phoenix Park can cope with the crowds once they are inside but getting them safely to and from the Mass would be the problem," a source said.

The Vatican tends to remain tight-lipped about the Pope's itinerary until shortly before he travels to a country.

It has been confirmed that the first papal visit in nearly 40 years will take place to coincide with the World Meeting of Families in Dublin between August 21-26. Pope Francis (81) is scheduled to take part in a ceremony in Croke Park on August 25, before celebrating Mass in Phoenix Park the following day.

Well-placed sources involved in logistical planning for the visit have indicated to the Irish Independent that Knock is now firmly on the agenda. One proposal is for the pontiff to fly directly to Knock Airport, which in itself would be an historic occasion.

It was the determination of Monsignor James Horan that ensured the airport was built. It opened in 1985 with three chartered flights to Rome and has since welcomed more than 10 million passengers.

Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at Knock shrine during his visit in 1979. He described his time at the site where a group of local people saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 1879 as "the goal of my journey to Ireland".

It is estimated 450,000 people attended an outdoor Mass that marked the centenary of that event.

Pope Francis has prayed at a number of Marian shrines while on tours to other countries, including last year when he honoured two children who saw Mary in the Portuguese town of Fátima.

It is likely that if the Pope flies directly from Rome to Knock, he will then use air transport to get to Dublin in time for a ticketed event in Croke Park.

His itinerary in the capital is also expected to include a visit to the Capuchin Day Centre, run by Brother Kevin Crowley.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has confirmed the Pope wants to visit a prison during his time here, most likely Mountjoy.

Some disappointment has been expressed that there is no suggestion at this point that the Pope will travel into Northern Ireland.

Pope John Paul II was unable to cross the Border for safety reason in 1979.

Many had hoped that the current head of the Catholic Church could make the journey, but it is not currently on the agenda.

Archbishop Martin has noted that Pope Francis is 81 years old, "so the amount of things he can do is limited".

Irish Independent

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