While it doesn’t appear in the Liturgical Calendar for Scotland, I noticed that last Tuesday was the Memorial of Our Lady of Knock, and that sparked off a memory for me. After I was ordained in 1983, I was posted here to St. Mungo’s, primarily as the Vocations Director for Scotland, replacing Father Terence. One of the things I inherited from my predecessor was an annual pilgrimage to Knock to pray for Passionist vocations. As this was something that a number of people appeared to look forward to, and, as I had a task on my hands to win the hearts and minds of those who were going to miss the much-loved Father Terence, I decided that I had better keep this pilgrimage going, which I did for the three years that I spent here, before being transferred to Dublin to take up another post.
It was, however, never a burden. It was always a most enjoyable trip, combining serious prayer with good company, and great fun. We would fill a coach load with pilgrims and travel over to Ireland on the ferry to Belfast. On route to Knock Shrine, we would stop off at the Passionist Monastery at the Graan, in Enniskillen, where we would be heartily welcomed and treated to tea and buns. There were Passionists at the Graan who had once been stationed in St. Mungo’s, and so they were happy to reminisce about former times. The same thing would happen at the Passionist Monastery at Cloonamahon, County Sligo, as we continued our journey west, then south to County Mayo, where the village of Knock is located.
While there, we would have a full programme of pilgrimage activities, but there was always a day when we went into Westport, and then out to Croagh Patrick, the holy mountain. A few of us would ascend the mountain and take in the wonderful views out over Clew Bay; others would climb up, only as far as the statue of St. Patrick, while the rest would assemble at the foot of the mountain, and wait for us in a variety store that catered for just about every need imaginable, including tea and scones, but also pints of Guiness or lager for those who so wished. I have to confess that I enjoyed a nice pint of Harp lager to quench my thirst after the climb, and I remember that the store manager had to move a statue of the Child of Prague out of the way to get to the lager pump. I remember too, that on our first trip, there was a local man sitting on a stool, enjoying a nice pint of Guiness, or two, and playing a tin whistle. This soon developed into a sing-song that was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. The second year, when we went back, the same man was sitting on the same stool playing the same tunes, and the third year he was there again. It turned out he was the local postman, and I did wonder whether he ever left that stool, and did the local people ever get their mail delivered.
I’ve always found the Apparition at Knock quite intriguing. An August night in 1879, with torrential rain pouring down, everywhere, except, that is, at the gable end of the church where the apparition took place, witnessed by most of the village. An extraordinary ensemble of Our Lady; St. Joseph; St. John the Evangelist; the Lamb of God; the altar; the cross, and a circlet of angels. Not a word was spoken. The Shrine was visited by Pope Francis on his recent visit to Ireland, a couple of years ago, and he has raised the status of the Shrine from a national to an international Marian Shrine. At that time it even had a Marriage Bureau, where many a searching Catholic found a compatible partner over the years, but that closed in 2019.
Out at Bishopbriggs we have just had a post-chapter visit from our Provincial, consulting with each of us about how to move forward during these next few years. There remain two further stages in this consultation process before appointments are made, probably sometime in the middle of September. When the dust settles, there may be changes to our team at St. Mungo’s, or there may not. Trusting that we have had the chance to speak, and be listened to, we leave it all in the hands of the Provincial and his team and, of course, the Holy Spirit. So, as ever, protect yourselves, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.