One of the most interesting programmes shown over the Christmas period was the film Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village on RTÉ 1.
This documentary told the story of Knock Shrine, mainly through
interviews with some of the people involved in that parish.
priest Fr Richard Gibbons was a central focus of attention, with one
contributor comparing him favourably to Msgr James Horan, pioneer of the
development of the shrine and of Knock airport.
The pilgrimage from the diocese of New York, led by the gregarious
Archbishop Timothy Dolan, figured large, and there was a strong
implication that such pilgrimages were key to the future of the shrine.
Its place in Irish culture was central, but Fr Gibbons didn’t want
Knock seen as some sort of last bastion of Irish Catholicism. His vision
was infinitely wider than that.
While there were some dodgy superstitious elements (e.g. the idea of
burying a statue of St Joseph upside down in the garden to ensure the
sale of a house), and while some of souvenirs seemed tacky, there were
some strong moments.
I was intrigued by the insight into the workings of
the Knock Marriage Bureau, as staff sorted through the various
applicants – possible pairings were summarily dismissed on various
grounds, including age and even size difference.
Most inspirational of all was the ceremony towards the end where
people in costume represented each of the 15 witnesses to the
apparition, leading up to the dramatic unveiling of the newly
commissioned and strikingly beautiful mural depicting the apparition.