Over 2000 pilgrims travelled from the four provinces of Ireland to participate in the 36th SMA pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock, the conclusion to a weeklong Novena of Prayer in honour of Our Lady.
57 SMA missionaries were joined by the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles and many committed supporters of our missionary work at home and abroad, including the SMA Family Vocations Crusade. The weather ensured a most pleasant experience for all who had travelled from near and far.
The theme of this year’s pilgrimage was ‘Welcoming the Stranger’, reflected in the Rosary Procession, the Stations of the Cross, Benediction and our concluding Eucharistic celebration.
Welcoming the pilgrims, Fr Michael McCabe SMA, Provincial Leader, reminded us that during this special Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us all to open wide the door of our hearts, to forgive others, to work against social exclusion and to welcome the stranger as our new neighbour. “We can be sure,” Fr McCabe said, “that Mary, Mother of Mercy, will help us to respond generously to the Pope’s invitation.”
The rosary procession began with a prayer invoking God’s merciful grace “to bring hope into the lives of the thousands of people throughout the world who are fleeing hunger, war and persecution, and who need to be welcomed.”
Loreto Formation Programme Group with Fr Tom McNamara, SMA.
Remembering Christ’s condemnation, the Stations of the Cross began with the prayer: “We are afraid of those who are different from us. But Jesus showed us a different way.” A poignant note was struck during the stations when an OLA Sister stated:
“God is in the boats sinking in the Mediterranean.”
The statement was stark and reminiscent of those expressed by Elie Wiesel in his book ‘Night’, recalling the execution by hanging of two Jewish men and a boy in Auschwitz which he and thousands of Holocaust victims were forced to witness. The men died quickly, but the child’s body was light, causing him to writhe on the gallows for over 30 minutes before succumbing to death.
Wiesel heard someone nearby ask: “For God’s sake, where is God?” From within, he heard a voice answer: “Where is He?” This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”
Is it not the same voice that Wiesel heard in Auschwitz that reminded us during the Stations of the Cross that “God is in the boats sinking in the Mediterranean”? As Christians, we must see the plight of refugees as the continuance of Christ’s road to Golgotha.
The Gospel reading reminded us that Jesus’ life began as a refugee fleeing persecution and, even after Herod’s death, his displacement continued since it was too dangerous for the holy family to return to their native Judea and, instead, settled in Nazareth, in the region of Galilee.
In his homily Fr. Tim Cullinane SMA reminded us that we Christians are followers of a refugee and a displaced migrant.
This theme was powerfully illustrated through a circular sticker handed out to all who entered the basilica for Mass. It depicted two crammed refugee boats, before which two hands clasped one another in a gesture of friendship. Emboldened on the border were the words: NO ONE IS A STRANGER – WELCOME.
Reflecting on the apparition, Fr Cullinane said: “Mary came to give hope and encouragement at a time when people were suffering greatly from the effects of famine. The same Mary, though we cannot see her physically, is as present today as she was for those who witnessed the apparition on that day in August 1879.”
His words were particularly poignant as this year’s Mass took place under the newly installed mosaic depicting the Knock Apparition. It is a magnificent piece of art consisting of 1.5 million pieces. In the foreground are the witnesses who in 1879 represented Ireland’s poorest of the poor.
It is surely no coincidence that 1879 was also the year when Michael Davitt’s Land League, founded in Mayo, began to break the power of the landlords and to win back the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland. It was the year when centuries of mass starvation was finally rid from the shores of Ireland. Should not Ireland be welcoming the strangers who have fled their lands due to similar injustices?
Fr. Cullinane’s words cause us to ponder that the silent apparition of Mary, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist was, surely, a foreshadowing of the hope expressed in Mary’s Magnificat:
“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1: 46-55)
The Cork Male Voice Choir enriched the Liturgy with their beautiful singing