From TOM NEARY at Knock
On August 21, 1879, a glorious apparition of Heaven was witnessed by a group of humble villagers at Knock, Co Mayo. The apparition took place at a particularly troubled and desolate hour in the history of Ireland. Famine, disease, despair and warfare was on every side. At about 8 o'clock on this Thursday evening the brilliant light of Heaven illumined the dark gable of the little parish church at Knock. It was a very wet evening. The rain fell in torrents. A strong gale blew from the south against the gable. Heavy and troubled clouds were restless in the skies overhead. The elements were in turmoil.
The indescribable vision was in direct contrast. There, for fully two hours, was a vision of peace — absolute serenity, stupendous silence.
Our Blessed Lady was enjoying the Beatific Vision — the vision of her God. She was in deep contemplation. Her face was utterly serene. Her eyes were full of happiness and joy. St Joseph was on her right and St John the Evangelist was on her left. , On St John's left was an altar. On the altar was a lamb and behind the Iamb was a cross. Angels hovered around the lamb the whole time. Not a word was spoken. All was calm.
All was bright. Peace — that attribute of heaven — had shone forth on earth.
Ever since that wet, wild and wonderful evening in 1879, millions and millions of pilgrims from every land have come to this place, to kneel and pray and walk, so that they too may, like the humble villagers of this blessed place, experience that peace which the world cannot give.
A young girl who came to Knock from Glasgow said: "There is a whole combination of things which go to make Knock what it is to-day ... The ceremonies are moving and beautiful. The shrine helpers are wonderful with the sick and the old ... My whole attitude to life and people has been changed by what I experienced at Knock."
A young man who came from Birmingham last summer said: "I think it is the example which people see at Knock that impresses them most of all. There is an atmosphere here which touches you in the heart and spirit.
"You are certain that here is a place where Christianity is real. You can see love in action. Human beings help human beings. They build relationships. Knock has changed me for the better. 1 came here at war with myself ... I am going home a new man, filled with happiness and at peace."
A National Peace Pilgrimage was held at Knock on Sunday, August 18, 1940, to pray that Ireland might be saved from the horrors of war. Ornamental baskets bearing the name of each county and containing 10,000 Mass cards, indicating that Masses were offered or arranged for in the 32 counties Of Ireland, were laid on the steps of the altar, in the Oratory, at the Apparition gable.
On the Feast of St Michael, September 29, 1940, a Children's Peace Pilgrimage was held. The war years passed and Ireland was spared. A National Pilgrimage of Thanksgiving was held at Knock on Sunday, August 19, 1945. A man from New York who came to Knock with a group of American pilgrims, said: "Knock is a place of peace. I have experienced it at the allnight vigil. There is a deep, sincere faith here.
"I have never seen people pray anywhere in the world lace they pray at Knock. One gets that family feeling of togetherness. There are family groups all over the place — parents and children praying together, loving one another." Fr James Horan, the parish priest of Knock, said: "This is a paradise of peace for those who are troubled by a shallow, faithless world ... I believe that the blessing of 1879 will forever remain as a source of reconciliation, consolation and peace."
On Sunday, May 6, 1973, a National Peace Pilgrimage was again held at Knock. The special intention was a just and lasting peace in Ireland. It was a magnificent occasion which had been preceded by a special all-night vigil for peace.
My own best memory of Knock is not one of winding processions, colourful banners and teeming thousands. It is rather a memory of the place by night. I knelt at the Oratory of the Apparition. There was not one human being in the entire
domain. It was a silent night. No sound disturbed the lone pilgrim.
The bright stars in the clear night sky twinkled and a clear moonlight fell on the gable — that point of contact between heaven and earth. Peace is an* experience, and it is there for you as it was for me.
All the while Our Lady, Queen of Peace and her Son, Prince of Peace, preside on this Mayo hillside and bless with pardon and peace this hallowed countryside. Let us pray that through their intercession God may grant the gift of peace to all His people.