KNOCK – Following the request he made to the faithful from around the world to pray for an end to clerical sexual abuse, Pope Francis on Sunday came knocking on Mary’s door to present to her “all the victims of abuse of whatever kind committed by members of the Church in Ireland.”
“I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family,” Francis said. “I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.”
The abuses by the Catholic Church in Ireland were many and the crimes various: On Saturday, Francis met with eight victims, including survivors of clerical, religious and institutional abuse.
He was interrupted by the applause of those attending the event at various points during his speech.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Knock in Ireland sees over a million pilgrims arriving each year, each bringing their own special intentions. As he told the crowd that had gathered for the papal visit in the esplanade in front of the shrine, during his private, silent visit to the Chapel of Reconciliation, Francis prayed for all those hurt by the Catholic Church. This is something he’d asked the faithful around the world to do in his letter to the People of God released on Monday.
“None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence and left scarred by painful memories,” Francis said afterwards, as he was addressing the thousands who’d gathered in the shrine on Sunday.
In an off-the-cuff remark, Francis also mentioned all the children “who were removed from their mothers,” referring to the children taken from their birth mothers and given up in forced adoptions by Church-run facilities.
He made the comment after Saturday’s meeting with abuse survivors, during which he promised Clodagh Malone, a survivor of St Patrick’s Mother and Baby Home, that he would include a message about the mothers and children impacted during Sunday’s events.
The “open wound” of the abuses, the pontiff said, “challenges us to be firm and decisive” in the search for truth and justice.
Tradition has it that on August 21, 1879, the Virgin Mary, joined by St. Joseph, St. John the Evangelist and Christ himself – represented as the Lamb of God – all appeared. Though some might be prone to brush it off as an Irish folk-tale, 1.5 million pilgrims, and now two popes, believe that it’s real. Pope John Paul II went to Knock during his 1979 visit to Ireland.
In the century and a half since the apparition, this small town in the north-western part of the country, nestled amidst the national highlands once evangelized by St. Patrick, has become the Marian heart of “Catholic Ireland.”
Francis also told those present that Mary is the Mother of the Church and prayed so that “amid the storms and winds that buffet our times, may they be a bulwark of faith and goodness,” resisting, “all that would diminish our dignity as men and women created in God’s image and called to the sublime destiny of eternal life.”
During his remarks before the Sunday Angelus prayer, Francis also spoke to the pilgrims who’d come from Northern Ireland, saying that they can count on his affection and closeness in prayer.
“I ask Our Lady to sustain all the members of the Irish family to persevere, as brothers and sisters, in the work of reconciliation,” referring to the process begun 20 years ago, with the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998 that put an end to three decades of civil unrest in the northern part of the Emerald Isle.
Thousands of faithful braved the rain and cold weather to see Francis at the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, arriving at the shrine not too long after midnight. Despite this, the crowd cheered happily when the pope mobile passed them by, waving little Vatican flags and light blue ones with the image of the Virgin.
Francis closed his remarks offering a “special greeting to the men and women in this country who are in prison. I especially thank those who wrote to me upon learning that I would visit Ireland. I assure you and your families of my closeness in prayer.”
Later in the day, Francis is scheduled to address the local bishops’ conference, and to say Mass in Phoenix Park. An estimated half million people were expected. He will then fly to Rome, where he’s expected to give one of his customary airborne press conferences.