Belfast Telegraph

Pope arrives for Knock shrine visit

The engagement in Co Mayo comes ahead of a huge outdoor Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.

The Pope has arrived at a holy shrine revered by Irish Catholics in the west of Ireland.

He climbed the steps of a Popemobile – the second being used in Ireland during his visit – ahead of a tour through the thousands of pilgrims who have gathered at the Knock shrine in Co Mayo amid torrential rain to see the pontiff.

Francis waved to well wishers as he was driven past the flag-waving crowds.

The engagement at Knock comes ahead of a huge outdoor Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, for which half a million people have tickets.

The religious engagements come after the first day of the Pope’s historic visit to Ireland was dominated by the bitter legacy of historical scandals linked to church abuse and mistreatment.

On Saturday, the Pope met a number of victims of criminality and cruelty inflicted by church members.

The private engagement in Dublin came hours after Francis expressed “pain and shame” over failures to tackle the scandals.

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Pope Francis arrives at Ireland West Airport in Knock (Yui Mok/PA)

Some of the survivors who attended the behind-closed-doors meeting said the pontiff employed blunter language with them, apparently using the Spanish word “caca” – Spanish for “shit” – to describe those who covered up abuse.

Abuse survivor Marie Collins, who was at the meeting, told the Press Association: “He was very frank, he listened to us all and he gave us all an opportunity to talk about our experiences.”

The Pope will say a prayer at the Knock shrine later on Sunday morning.

In August 1879, 15 people said they saw an apparition at Knock of the Virgin Mary, St Joseph, St John the Evangelist and a lamb.

Around 1.5 million people now visit the site every year.

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Pilgrims wait for the arrival of Pope Francis at Knock Holy Shrine (Niall Carson/PA)

While around 45,000 free tickets were distributed for the Knock event and 500,000 for the outdoor Phoenix Park Mass in Dublin, the final turnouts may be impacted by the very bad weather in Ireland on Sunday.

On Saturday, the world leader of the Catholic Church acknowledged that Irish people had a right to be outraged by its response to the crimes.

Later, inside a Dublin cathedral, he prayed for all victims of clerical sex abuse at a candle perpetually lit in tribute to them.

The Pope’s decision to address the dark legacy of abuse in a speech in Dublin Castle drew praise in some quarters, but others criticised Francis for not offering a public apology or directly acknowledging the Vatican’s role in the failures.

The failure of ecclesiastical authorities - bishops, religious superiors, priests and others - adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community Pope Francis

With the reverberations of a litany of clerical sex crimes casting a shadow over the first papal visit to Ireland since 1979, Francis acknowledged the gravity of what had happened during his address.

“With regard to the most vulnerable, I cannot fail to acknowledge the grave scandal caused in Ireland by the abuse of young people by members of the church charged with responsibility for their protection and education,” he said.

“The failure of ecclesiastical authorities – bishops, religious superiors, priests and others – adequately to address these repellent crimes has rightly given rise to outrage and remains a source of pain and shame for the Catholic community.

“I myself share those sentiments.”

On Saturday, the Pope also visited homeless people who receive support from a centre run by the Capuchin Fathers’ religious order.

In his Dublin Castle speech, the pontiff also expressed hope that remaining obstacles to reconciliation in Northern Ireland could be overcome.

Ireland has undergone seismic social changes in the four decades since the last papal visit, when John Paul II was lauded by a nation shaped by its relationship with an all-powerful Catholic Church.

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Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Knock Shrine in 1979 (PA)

But the church’s response to clerical sex abuse scandals, most of which emerged years after John Paul II’s visit, have severely damaged trust in the religious institution and seriously weakened its influence on Irish society.

While thousands lined the streets of the capital to catch a glimpse of Francis passing in his famous Popemobile on Saturday afternoon, the crowds were certainly not on the scale witnessed when John Paul II made a similar trip.

And among the well-wishers lining Dublin’s streets there were also protesters, who vented their anger at the pontiff as he drove by.

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