KNOCK, Ireland—Standing just a few feet away from where many Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared in 1879 to a dozen denizens of this bucolic corner of western Ireland at the height of a famine, on Sunday morning Pope Francis begged God’s forgiveness for the abuse of countless innocents by priests and other members of the Catholic Church.
“None of us can fail to be moved by the stories of young people who suffered abuse, were robbed of their innocence, and left scarred by painful memories,” the 82-year-old pontiff told a crowd of 45,000 who moments earlier had stood silently in the rain while he spent several minutes in quiet meditation inside the Apparition Chapel in Knock, County Mayo.
The pope delivered his prepared remarks in Italian, with simultaneous translation into English via Irish broadcaster RTÉ Television.
“This open wound challenges us to be firm and decisive in the pursuit of truth and justice,” Pope Francis said. “I beg the Lord’s forgiveness for these sins and for the scandal and betrayal felt by so many others in God’s family.”
“Mary our Mother is also the Mother of the church, and it is to her that we commend today the journey of God’s faithful people on this emerald isle,” the pope said earlier in his remarks. “We ask that our families be sustained in their efforts to advance Christ’s Kingdom and to care for the least of our brothers and sisters. Amid the storms and winds that buffet our times, may they be a bulwark of faith and goodness, resisting, in the best traditions of this nation, all that would diminish our dignity and men and women created in God’s image and called to the sublime destiny of eternal life.
“May Our Lady also look with mercy on all the suffering member of her son’s family. In my prayer before her statue, I presented to her in particular all the victims of abuse of whatever kind committed by members of the church in Ireland,” he said. “I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for the healing of the survivors and to confirm every member of our Christian family in the resolve never again to permit these situations to occur.”
Earlier Sunday morning, Pope Francis boarded the Aer Lingus aircraft St. Aidan — an Irish monk from the 7th century, Aidan is considered, among other things, to be the patron saint of firefighters — for the 25-minute flight across the Irish island to Knock in County Mayo. He spent about an hour at the site of the alleged 1879 apparition, where he gifted a gold rosary to the chapel, before returning to Knock’s airport for the return journey to Dublin.
The pontiff is set to appear at the World Meeting of Families closing Mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, at 3 p.m. local time.
Intermittent light rain blanketed Dublin as Pope Francis landed at Dublin’s airport shortly after noon. Thousands of the faithful (and the merely curious) streamed into the park. Reportedly 600,000 tickets were claimed for the papal Mass — about half of the size of the crowd that welcomed Pope John Paul II in September 1979 during his papal Mass here.
This the first visit to Ireland of Francis’ pontificate, and his first trip back to Ireland since he spent several weeks in Dublin studying English in 1980. The pope is expected to depart for Rome at 6:30 this evening, after the conclusion of today’s Mass.