LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Pope Francis will be visiting the Marian shrine at Knock during his August 25-26 visit to Ireland, but his official itinerary – released on Monday – confirms there will be no excursion to Northern Ireland during the trip.
Francis is visiting Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, and it will be the first papal visit since Pope St. John Paul drew over 2.5 million people in 1979.
The pontiff is attending the World Meeting of Families, which is taking place in Dublin.
Originally, Francis was only going to stay in the Irish capital, but several members of the Church asked that he visit the country’s most prominent Marian shrine.
Leaders of the Church in the North also wanted the pope to visit, but organizers had said from the beginning it was unlikely, given the logistics of the trip.
According to the official schedule, the pope will spend less than two hours in Knock the morning of Aug. 26, and will recite the Angelus from the square in front of the shrine.
Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam – the archdiocese in which the shrine is located – said the side trip will not distract from the Meeting for Families and noted the official launch for the international event took place in Knock on Aug. 21, 2017.
“One of the most beautiful sights at Knock is to see families, sometimes the three generations praying and enjoying the peace and tranquility of the Shrine,” Neary said on Monday during a press conference in Maynooth. “The Apparition at Knock was family apparition incorporating Our Lady, Saint Joseph, Jesus as the Lamb of God, and John as representing the extended family.”
He said Knock Shrine has “the capacity to continue the momentum generated by the World Meeting of Families,” and will be a place where the fruits of the event will be “nourished and blossom” after it has concluded.
The archbishop also mentioned Francis’s personal devotion to Mary, and the fact the pope visits the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome before and after his international trips.
“It seems to me that an opportunity to visit Knock is something the Holy Father personally desires. It will be the second time a Pope visits Knock Shrine following the historic visit of Saint Pope John Paul II on September 30, 1979 to mark the centenary of the Apparition,” Neary said.
On Aug. 25, Francis will meet with political leaders in Dublin, exactly three months after the Republic of Ireland voted to legalize abortion in a referendum. In 2015, another referendum legalized same-sex marriage in the country.
Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said the pope’s visit comes as the Church in Ireland struggles to find a new place in Irish society and culture, which he said is very different from the dominant one it held in the past.
“Pope Francis said to me that he considers the World Meeting of Families as a gift to the Irish Church. His idea, however, is not that we will receive a gift to be placed in a glass-case for ourselves. He looks on the World Meeting of Families as a gift that the Irish Church can then share with others,” Martin said.
The Dublin archbishop said he hopes the visit will offer families “renewed inspiration, hope and healing.”
“Family is about love, no matter how imperfect and failing: It is about a love that enriches lives. I am thinking about the love of spouses, the love of parents for children, the goodness with which families enrich communities,” Martin said.
“We have great families who would never think of themselves as great: They simply do their best,” he continued. “Where would any of us be without the love and generosity we received from our parents?”
The World Meeting of Families was established by John Paul in 1994 and takes place every three years.
This year’s event will be the first since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, Francis’s apostolic exhortation on family life.
The document will be a central focus of the meeting. During his short stay, Francis will also visit a day center for homeless families run by the Capuchin order.
“Pope Francis is above all a free man,” Martin said.
“He shows us we can live in a world where faith seems marginal and yet manage to touch hearts and challenge them to reflect on and discern those fundamental values vital for society,” he continued. “What he does is to find ways in which he can win hearts for what the teaching of Jesus involves, not through imposing and judging, but through winning and attracting.”