July 15, 2017

Knock, Ireland. May, 1992

There is no mistaking that you are in Catholic territory when you visit Ireland, a country that someone once told me was similar to Italy in that both nations have lots of religion-based visuals all around, but that it’s only the old people who take the Church seriously. The same cannot be said for the tourists. When my father and I pulled into the huge parking lot at the shrine at Knock, it was filled with Americans toting their recently purchased rosary beads, their small plastic bottles of blessed water. I’d never heard of Knock and its shrine to Mary in all of my years of Irish American Catholic schooling. For those of you similarly uninformed, here’s the official summary: In 1879, fifteen people witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist at Knock Parish Church. Bingo! A shrine, a pilgrim destination, a tourist attraction. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not, um, knocking the beliefs of the one and a half million pilgrims who visit annually. In fact I’ve always been kind of charmed by the theatrical and magical elements of my past faith, stories of visions, healing miracles, grottos filled with discarded crutches, etc. But I did have to smile when I saw this directional sign herding the faithful this way and that.

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