COVID forces Knock shrine to close Aug. 15 to discourage crowds

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Pope Francis is pictured in a file photo praying as he visits the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Knock Shrine in Knock, Ireland. Because of the COVID pandemic, the Marian shrine has announced it will close Aug. 14-16 to discourage pilgrims from coming for the feast of the Assumption, usually its busiest day of the year. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

KNOCK, Ireland (CNS) — The Marian shrine at Knock announced Aug. 10 that in addition to postponing the popular Knock Novena and pilgrimage because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the shrine and its church would be closed for the Aug. 15 feast of the Assumption of Mary to ensure pilgrims do not arrive anyway.

“Father Richard Gibbons, rector at Knock, has appealed to people not to travel to Knock on 15th August as the shrine and grounds will be closed in order to prevent large gatherings in the context of COVID-19,” said a statement posted Aug. 10 on the shrine’s website.

The feast of the Assumption traditionally is the centerpiece of the Knock Novena and normally would draw 20,000 pilgrims to the shrine, the statement said. Over the course of the novena Aug. 14-22 as many as 150,000 people normally would go to the shrine for prayer and lectures.

“In the light of the current escalation of COVID-19 cases around the country together with the sheer impossibility of having the resources necessary to deal with the potential of large numbers of people gathering” at the shrine Aug. 15 and, “extremely conscious of our responsibility for the safety of our parishioners, pilgrims, visitors, staff, volunteers and priests,” Father Gibbons said, the shrine will close at 8 p.m. Aug. 14 and not reopen until 7 a.m. Aug. 16.

“This decision was taken after detailed discussions with church and state bodies,” the rector said. “We are appealing to people therefore, not to travel to Knock for the 15th August as the shrine and grounds will be closed off to everyone in order to prevent large gatherings.”

Leaving the shrine open, he added, would be “ambiguous and cause confusion.”

During the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the shrine’s livestreamed Masses and offer allowing people to virtually light a candle there proved very popular. For the feast of the Assumption, the shrine said, “Masses will be celebrated online only and behind closed doors” at noon, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

When the strict lockdown in Ireland ended, in late June the Knock shrine began offering Masses with a maximum of 50 people present; the number increased to 100 in July and to 200 Aug. 4. However, Ireland has been experiencing a growth in COVID-19 infection rates and some counties — but not County Mayo where Knock is located — have returned to lockdown measures.

Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service has reported from the Vatican since the founding of its Rome bureau in 1950.