By Marian Duggan
Only 50 people will be allowed into Knock Basilica when it opens next Monday.
The spacious church usually holds 3,700 pilgrims for services but restrictions mean only just over 1% of the normal congregation will be allowed to pray at any one time.
Shrine Rector Fr Richard Gibbons admitted he was “shocked” when news of the 50 people church limit, no matter the size of the building, came through last week.
Shrine staff had spent weeks planning the layout of the Basilica to accommodate pilgrims sitting two metres apart. Their layout allowed for 400 people in the church at any one time.
“It’s disappointing really,” Fr Gibbons told the Western People.
“All our plans were turned on their heads when we heard the limit last week; The numbers confused us,” he said.
There was talk of changes to the restrictions today (Friday) but Fr Gibbons said he had received no documentation confirming them and he will be continuing with plans to only allow 50 people into the church at any one time until the end of next week before revisiting the issue.
The Basilica is open for private prayer from 9am to 8pm. However, the Parish Church will only open for Masses and the Confessional Chapel will only be open for confessions from 12 to 3pm.
Admission will be on a first-come, first-served basis and a strict queuing system will be in place prior to the commencement of Mass. Once the indoor maximum capacity has been reached, Shrine management has asked that people do not continue to queue as entry to the Church will not be possible.
Fr Gibbons has asked that people only attend one daily Mass so that the Shrine can accommodate as many parishioners and pilgrims as possible.
The 50 congregation limit has also disrupted plans for the annual Novena in August but Fr Gibbons said it “will go ahead one way or another”.
If pilgrims can’t attend Masses in the Basilica then they will be able to access them online.
Pilgrims visiting the Shrine in the coming days will be glad to hear that public toilet facilities will be available in the main toilet block, adjacent to the Papal Cross, from 10am to 6pm but the shuttle service will not be available at this time.