By Ann Marie Foley - 22 April, 2020
“People are able to connect with Knock ... There is a lot of loneliness and isolation and you really get the sense that Knock is something that they are able to hold onto,” said Maria Casey.
Diocesan pilgrimages to the National Marian Shrine at Knock are to continue during the COVID-19 restrictions. However, pilgrims will visit online as virtual visitors.
Maria Casey, spokesperson for Knock, said it is sad to see the gates closed at the shrine, which is normally beginning its pilgrimage season at this time and would be “buzzing” and full of crowds. However, next weekend the Archdiocese of Dublin has its annual pilgrimage to Knock and people from parishes all over Dublin are invited in a special way to take part by tuning in online.
“We have invited them to come on a virtual pilgrimage. So the organisers are telling all of their people to log in for 3 o’clock Mass,” said Maria Casey. “We are hoping to do that for all pilgrimages.”
Since churches were closed as part of the precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, social media has been helping create a sense of community, in a different way, as those who visit Knock Shrine participate in daily masses broadcast online at noon and 7.30 in the evening. People can participate via Knock Shrine website, YouTube and live on Facebook.
“We’ve had a fantastic reaction to that because people open up their phone and it’s there. They don’t have to go looking for it,” Maria Casey told CatholicIreland.net, referring to the Facebook alerts which notify people when the Mass is about to start.
“We have noticed how Facebook is building up a lovely community, as our visitors are messaging on the livestream, and they are messaging each other, and they are tagging their friends and neighbours. We have had people sending in messages from all over, from the UK, Australia, the US.”
From 1 March to 20 April 2020, Knock Shrine’s various online media outlets had more than one million viewers. The Knock Shrine website had received over 600,000 page views on the livestream alone. The Knock Shrine YouTube channel had over 720,000 viewers and the Knock Shrine Facebook page had 148,600 engagements on videos.
Apart from the numbers, the online services seem to have given comfort to those who are cocooning or who are away from home. They write messages stating what Knock means to them and what it means to tune in every day. Some people have sent in pictures of themselves watching the livestream.
“People are able to connect with Knock. They are going through a very difficult time. There is a lot of loneliness and isolation and you really get the sense that Knock is something that they are able to hold onto. It gives them comfort,” said Maria Casey.
People can also send in petitions which are placed at the altar for each Mass. They can request that candles be lit for loved ones or for special intentions, and once the request is received an actual candle is lit at Knock by sacristans who live nearby and are able to visit the shrine in person and light the candles.
“We try to post as many pictures of the candles lit as we can [online]. That seems to be going down really well. They love to see that. Again, it gives people comfort. It is something tangible,” said Maria Casey.
She feels that even those who were not previously active on social media have been able to get help from family members or by phoning Knock for advice and technical support, so they “get the hang of it” very quickly.
In another initiative, when parishioners were unable to physically attend Easter ceremonies, Fr Richard Gibbons, PP, Knock Parish, went out to visit and bless (from a social distance) with Easter Holy Water the 58 townlands in the parish, which have around 900 homes.
Among the homes that he blessed was the thatched cottage which was the birthplace and family home of John Curry who, at just five years of age, was the youngest witness to the Knock Apparition in 1879. John died in New York in 1943.