By Sarah Mac Donald - 27 July, 2020
"This has been a very difficult decision that will cause a great deal of disappointment to pilgrims, it also has economic consequences for the wider community and the Shrine itself” - Fr Richard Gibbons, Rector of Knock.
This year’s national novena in Knock has been postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis, breaking the shrine’s unbroken tradition for the first time in 43 years.
On Friday, Fr Richard Gibbons, Rector of Knock Shrine, announced that the novena, which has taken place every year since 1977 from 14 – 22 August and attracts as many as 150,000 pilgrims, is postponed until perhaps later this year, although plans to reschedule it depend on Government guidance.
The proposed theme for this year’s Novena was ‘Faith in changing times’.
In a statement, Fr Gibbons said that having discussed at length the logistics and health and safety of organising the novena, “with heavy hearts” it had been decided to postpone it.
“After careful assessment of all aspects in line with current government guidelines, we feel that this is the right thing to do. This has been a very difficult decision that will cause a great deal of disappointment to pilgrims, it also has economic consequences for the wider community and the Shrine itself.”
But he stressed that the health and safety of parishioners, pilgrims, priests, staff and volunteers was “of paramount importance at this worrying time”.
Fr Richard explained that, “As the Shrine has gradually reopened for Mass in recent weeks, we have successfully and safely restricted capacity for Masses. Even though the Shrine grounds cover over 100 acres, it would be impossible to control in a safe manner large outdoor gatherings which would undoubtedly come for the Novena.”
But he highlighted that while the Novena is postponed, the Shrine in Knock will remain open to welcome individuals and family groups and will continue to offer Daily Masses in the Basilica at 12 noon, 3pm and 7.30pm with restricted capacity and on a first-come, first-served basis.
Pilgrims can also avail of Confession in the Chapel of Reconciliation. The Parish Church is available for private prayer and pilgrims can light candles. In all these locations strict queuing and social distancing measures apply.
Asked about the financial cost for the shrine of postponing or cancelling the novena, the Co Mayo parish priest said that he was unable to put a figure on it.
Speaking to Catholicireland.net, he explained, “I wouldn’t be able to put a figure on it because we have never had to do it before. That will be for an assessment towards the end of the season when we have all our facts and figures and see how it went compared to a normal season.”
He added, “It will have an economic consequence not only for the shrine but also the wider community here in Knock. We know that it would be quite huge. There is no doubt about it.”
“For many places and many events right across the country it has been the same story and it is important to be prudent and responsible and trust in God that next year will be much better.”
During lockdown Knock Shrine was at the forefront in reaching out to people online by the streaming of daily Masses via the shrine’s website and Facebook page. Pilgrims were invited to place a petition or light a candle while they were unable to visit their local churches.
“We realised the huge importance of our online services during lockdown and what it meant to people to be able to connect with us each day. Our online services will continue to play an important role in enabling us to stay connected with our pilgrims,” Fr Gibbons said.
He also encouraged people in Ireland and beyond to pray the Novena prayer in their own homes and parishes for the month of August so as to be “united in prayer”.
The prayer can be found on the Knock Shrine website – https://www.knockshrine.ie
Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv