Pope's visit

Pope in Knock: Ponchos, tea and a birthday treat

Pope Francis makes his way around the Knock shrine as crowds greet him this morning 
Michael McHugh, Press Association

A knight celebrated his birthday with a trip to see the Pope at one of the most revered sites of Catholicism.

Francis shared a wave and a warm smile with many as he made a pilgrimage to pray at the scene of an 1879 apparition of the Virgin Mary in Knock, Co Mayo.

He made a highly anticipated entrance as his Popemobile toured hallowed ground thronged with around 45,000 flag-waving and cheering faithful.

They included David Creggan, from Derry, who turned 67 on Sunday but said everybody told him he looked 20 years younger.

He said: "You know what keeps me young? Vitamin G - G for God."

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Mr Creggan was there as a member of the Knights of the Blessed Sacrament, a faith-based family organisation, and braved the rain well wrapped up in his wheelchair.

"It is the best birthday I could receive, being here in this blessed shrine of our mother in heaven, who is our Pope's mother, the mother of all children and of all the people," he added.

The Pope presented the shrine with a set of golden rosary beads and said he understood how important the tradition has been in this country.

Mr Creggan said he covered every aspect of life, from hurt to healing.

The pontiff begged for God's forgiveness and said: "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.

"This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice."

Francis followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, John Paul II, at Knock, which attracts around a million-and-a-half visitors each year.

Ann Bennison and her husband Harry, aged in their seventies and from London on holiday, made a point of visiting, the second successive pontiff they have seen.

Organisation was on an industrial scale and preparations meticulous, a legion of helpers in bright green T-shirts enlisted to aid in the distribution of communion, and Knock shrine flags given out, creating a pale blue wave of colour.

The tea was also free-flowing.

Plastic ponchos to protect against the elements were ubiquitous.

The crowds included the young and the elderly, some in wheelchairs and at least one with a guide dog.

The Rev Thomas Harrington, from Cork, displayed a VIP invite and joked with photographers "I will sue you", as he made his way using a mobility aid.

The atmosphere on this patch of venerated turf for Catholics was light-hearted and welcoming - the congregation sang hymns, applauded and only fell silent while the Pope prayed behind a glass wall in the apparition chapel.

His opening words on a massive stage underneath a large Celtic cross were straightforward and in English.

"Good morning."

The Pope blessed the crowd, met local schoolchildren and unveiled a painting of Mary.

Knock occupies a particular place in Ireland's national imagination, the subject of several songs.

Dana, the Eurovision song winner, wrote a piece called Lady of Knock and its strains played as the Pope made his exit.

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Pope's visit

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