Seamus McKinney: Pope Francis greeted with unadulterated joy in Knock
FOR the 45,000 people in Knock yesterday, the visit by Pope Francis was an occasion of unadulterated joy.
It wasn’t that they were ignoring the abuse scandals that has overshadowed the papal visit - they acknowledged the crisis in respectful applause when the pontiff again begged forgiveness for the sins of the clergy.
However, his arrival in the west was met with undoubted joy; it was a moment for ordinary Catholics to celebrate their faith.
From the dark of morning, thousands travelled through the rain-sodden byroads of Mayo to claim their place before the Chapel of the Apparition.
They threw themselves fully into the event before the pontiff arrived, some even dancing in the aisles to the strains of O’Carolan’s Concerto as the Pope’s plane touched down at nearby Ireland West Airport.
They made light of the weather, one voice from the stage even comparing the soft western mist to the “white smoke” which accompanies the election of a new pope.
They came from all over Ireland and reflected every strata of Irish society, with families and young people mixing with older citizens.
For one couple, it was an opportunity to celebrate their recent engagement, perhaps even with the papal blessing. Paul Stewart from Co Fermanagh and west Meath woman Michelle Roche, who got engaged in April, said they were big fans of the Argentine pontiff.
The White family from Steelstown in Derry also had pride of place as they awaited the papal drive-by. Angela White and her husband Ronnie and their children admitted to being a “wee bit” excited as they awaited the pontiff’s arrival.
Among others there was no doubt that the 'Francis effect' would help the Catholic Church in Ireland.
John McGrath said the Pope was a “beautiful man”.
“He’ll do good,” he added.
Linda Keane from Listowel, who travelled through the night to be in Knock, could only say the Pope was “wonderful”.
When Francis made his first steps from the plane after 9.30am, captured on huge screens at Knock shrine, the roar that went up from the faithful proved that the west was truly awake.
He was greeted in the wind and rain by dignatories and around 100 schoolchildren, including Saoirse McCarthy (11), daughter of airport operations manager John McCarthy.
She handed Pope Francis a bouquet of flowers.
"I welcomed him to the west of Ireland and he said never forget to pray for him and then he gave me a set of rosary beads," she said..
"I was nervous but once I did it I was okay. I thought he was really lovely and he's a wonderful man."
The joy was clear again as the Pope drove through the crowds in Knock. Emotion overflowed with some unable to hide their tears as the pontiff passed.
Thousands of voices also joined in the singing of Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland, penned by Derry’s Dana Rosemary Scanlon.
But while there was energy and electricity among the crowd, the actual ritual side of the brief visit was quite subdued.
As the Pope prayed in the Chapel of the Apparition, silence was observed. And later, as he addressed the crowds, there was none of the wild cheers that greeted his predecessor John Paul II’s 39 years previously.
Rather there was respectful applause reflecting the seriousness of the issues being addressed.
Before boarding his plane back to Dublin, Pope Francis signed a Mayo Gaelic football top handed to him by Audrey Elliott, who works in the marketing team at the airport.
The Mayo fan said she hopes the "curse" on the team, who were said to have been condemned by a priest for failing to pay respects at a funeral on their way home from last winning the All-Ireland in 1951, is now lifted.
And with that, almost as quickly as he arrived, Francis was gone.
Warmed by the visit, thousands remained to celebrate Sunday Mass before returning to the four corners of Ireland.