KNOCK – The old parish church remains, while the newer, bigger church — which was named a basilica in 1979 by Pope John Paul II, during his short visit to Knock in late September of that year — has just reopened after a $10-million renovation. The original basilica building was partly intended to shelter the many pilgrims to Knock (sometimes numbering up to 1.6 million a year) from the west of Ireland’s swirling winds and bracing mists. Inside the old basilica, coat-clad pilgrims squeezed into benches that looked designed for primary-school children, as sermons and hymns echoed and faded inaudibly around the expanses of the five-chapel interior. That has all been remedied, however, as Father Patrick Burke, a priest at Knock, explained to the Register during this writer’s visit in April. “It had been talked about for a long time,” Father Burke said of the refurbishment, the physical part of which began after the final Mass of the 2014 pilgrimage season, which was held on Oct. 12 of last year.
ROME — Joshua Cambria, a convert to Catholicism who hails from Providence, R.I., and a student-services officer at John Cabot University in Rome, said he ran to St. Peter’s upon seeing the white smoke while watching the conclave proceedings on TV. “I was personally hoping for [Italian Cardinal Angelo] Scola, a grand Ambrosian theologian with an appetite for reform. But, again, I am both surprised and pleased with the outcome of the holy conclave,” said Cambria, who describes himself as being as much of an Italian as an American. Like Cambria, other American students in Rome had their particular thoughts and hopes about who would succeed Benedict XVI. Tatum McWhirter, a philosophy and theology student at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University, said she was rooting for Canada’s Marc Ouellet, who, like U.S. cardinals Sean O’Malley and Timothy Dolan, was touted by many analysts as a contender prior to the conclave.
VATICAN CITY — With a Colombian flag tied around her shoulders, Sister Laura Teresa took a last look back at the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, where, moments before, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio emerged to greet the world as Pope Francis. He is the 266th pope, but the first Latin American, the first Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope and the first non-European since 741. “Yes, there is history here tonight,” said the religious sister from Bogota. Speaking amid a din from the estimated 200,000 umbrella-wielding onlookers making their way out of the vast horseshoe-shaped piazza after the end of the conclave, Sister Laura said that “I am surprised and happy that there is a Holy Father from South America.”
ROME — “We are praying for it,” says Ferdinand de Guzman, standing in the doorway of the Santa Pudenziana church, about a mile from the Colosseum and the Lateran Basilica, two famous Roman landmarks. The Filipino Catholic was speaking about the possibility that his compatriot, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, could emerge as Pope after the conclave, which starts Tuesday. “If God wills it, he will be Pope, but if not, we will surely support our new Holy Father whoever that may be,” said de Guzman, from Tarlac in the Philippines but now in his 20th year living in Rome.
DUBLIN — As Archbishop Charles Brown takes up his new post of papal nuncio to Ireland, he will face what some see as unprecedented difficulties for the church in Ireland. After the publication of a series of reports outlining gruesome cases of sexual abuse by priests in Ireland over recent decades, coupled with a falloff in church attendance, and less quantifiably, a perceptible decline in religious belief and practice, it’s little wonder that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin predicted that his archdiocese faced its toughest challenge “since Catholic Emancipation,” the 1829 changes to British law that removed many of the discriminatory provisions against Catholics in the United Kingdom, of which Ireland was then a part. Archbishop Martin was commenting on a drop in Mass attendance in Dublin to 14% and declining priest numbers, but the remarks were seen by many as appropriate to the wider church in Ireland, which now operates within what Irish writer John Waters described to the Register as “the most anti-Catholic country in Europe.”