38th Annual SMA Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock

“Let us pray that the gathering of families, from the five continents, will bring us renewed courage and many blessings; and that Pope Francis will bring us new hope as he has done to many people throughout the world.”
– Fr. Gerry Sweeney SMA 

Ever since our founder, the Venerable Bishop Marion de Brésillac, chose to consecrate the Society of African Missions to Our Lady of Fourviere on 8 December 1856, it was inevitable that our devotion to Mary would bring the Irish SMA Province to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. 

This year marked the 38th anniversary of the annual SMA pilgrimage to which an estimated 2000 pilgrims travelled by bus and car from the four corners of Ireland. Our pilgrimage is held on the 4th Saturday of May, every year.

2000 pilgrims traveled by bus and by car from the four corners of Ireland

With Pope Francis due to attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August, this year’s theme was ‘We are a Missionary Family’. It gave us the opportunity to highlight and acknowledge the extensive organisations and networks that have flourished throughout Ireland in support of our missionary work.

This year we recalled the exhortation of Pope Francis: 

“Christian families are missionary families, in their everyday life, in their doing everyday things, as they bring to everything the salt and the leaven of faith!”

Pilgrims arrive at Knock Basillica for Rosary and Benediction

SMA priests were available from 10:30am until 2:15pm in the Reconciliation Chapel for Confessions. At 12 noon a large gathering participated in the outdoor stations of the Cross before proceeding indoors for Holy Rosary and Benediction. 

SMA family – ongoing commitment to the people of Africa

Our Justice Officer, Gerry Forde, designed a giant jigsaw, each piece representing branches of the SMA and OLA family. When placed together, they created the map of Africa. Just before mass, each piece was placed before the altar by a representative, as Fr. Maurice Henry SMA, gave a brief outline of the work of each of the branches. You can learn more about the SMA family by clicking here. 

Over 50 SMA priests processed into the Basilica for the celebration of Eucharist at 3pm. The chief concelebrant was the our Provincial Leader, Fr. Michael McCabe SMA, who referred to the large family that the Society of African Missions is.

Recalling the first missionary journey undertaken by our Founder, Marion de Brésillac, the Sacred Scriptures were led to the altar by a troupe of dancers and musicians from, primarily, India. 

The Monsterevin Gospel Choir lead the congregation throughout mass and during the ceremony of anointing of the sick. The choir received a rousing applause at the conclusion of our ceremonies. 

SMA Fathers process for the beginning of Mass

By popular demand, Fr Gerry Sweeney SMA gave the homily reflection. His powerful voice, and lucid memory, captivated both priests, sisters and laity as he reflected on St. Luke’s Gospel recalling the occasion when Jesus, as a boy, went missing following his family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. (Luke 2:41-52)

Fr Gerry recalled the great privilege bestowed upon Ireland in hosting the World Meeting of Families, made all the more special by the intention of Pope Francis to attend.

SMA Fathers administer the Sacrament of the Sick

“Let us pray,” Fr. Gerry implored, “that this gathering of families, from the five continents, will bring us renewed courage and many blessings; and that Pope Francis will bring us new hope as he has done to many people throughout the world.” 

We only know life by looking backwards and we must live it forward by trusting in God. And as we look back as the SMA to the time of our founder in 1856, he wanted to go to Africa because, at that time, it was the most abandoned continent… we can see the great progress that has been achieved since then. Our founder went out in 1859 and died of Yellow Fever in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in less than three months. That was a sacrifice like the sacrifices that brings great blessings.”

Fr. Gerry reminded the congregation that one of the prayers of our novena is for the canonization of the SMA founder. He asked people to not just say it as part of the novena but ask them to place it somewhere that would remind them to pray for the founder’s canonization regularly. 

The Sacred Dance procession, carrying the Sacred Scriptures

Recalling the sacred dance at the beginning of mass, Fr Sweeney said the participants were a reminder of the life and vibrancy other peoples and cultures can bring to Ireland and to the liturgy. He expressed the hope that more young missionaries from Asia and Africa might come to the SMA houses to bring new life to an aging community, but also to continue the work of evangelization in Ireland. 

The following day, leading the annual Armagh Diocesan pilgrimage to Knock Shrine, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr. Eamon Martin, based his homily on the theme, “Being Missionary Disciples”. You may read his homily by clicking here.

The Monsterevin Gospel Choir

There was a heaviness in the air this year as the results of the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution were coming through, confirming exit polls the previous evening. Ireland had overwhelmingly voted to legalize unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks. In his homily Archbishop Martin addressed the outcome of the referendum, echoing what Fr. Gerry Sweeney had said the previous day:

“The result of Friday’s referendum on the Eighth Amendment confirms that we are living in a new time and a changed culture for Ireland. For the Church it is indeed a missionary time, a time for new evangelisation.”

Sr. Ethna Synott OLA and Sr. Kathleen McGarvey OLA review the new OLA banner, displayed in Knock for the first time
SMA Colleagues, Katherine and Linda, prepare for the arrival of our pilgrims
Pilgrims process from the Stations of the Cross towards the Basilica