Pope Francis has upgraded the Knock shrine in Co Mayo to international status.The shrine is now to be known as an International Sanctuary of Special Eucharistic and Marian Devotion.The designation was made by the Catholic leader during a special video link address from the Vatican.
In his address, Pope Francis said: Ever since the apparition of August 21, 1879, when the Blessed Virgin Mary, together with Saint Joseph and Saint John the Apostle, appeared to some villagers, the Irish people, wherever they have found themselves, have expressed their faith and devotion to Our Lady of Knock.
Fifteen people claimed to have then seen a silent apparition of Mary, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist at the south gable of Knock Parish Church.
Father Richard Gibbons, the rector of the shrine and parish priest of Knock, says today is an historic day.
“Archbishop Michael Neary, who’s our archbishop, the shrine is under his jurisdiction, applied to Rome for international status,” he said.
“What that just means is the highest recognition and honour that a shrine can get internationally in the worldwide family of the Church.
“So he said let’s apply for this and Rome were delighted to go with it, we were very happy, so we all worked together over a matter of months and it came about then that it was designated as such.”
Pope Francis with Fr Richard Gibbons at the statue of Our Lady in the Apparition Chapel at Knock Shrine. Picture: Michael McLaughlin
The pope added the elevation of the shrine was a great responsibility.
He said: You accept to always have your arms wide open as a sign of welcome to every pilgrim who may arrive from any part of the world, asking nothing in return but only recognizing him as a brother or a sister who desires to share the same experience of fraternal prayer.
Archbishop Michael Neary said that the elevation of the Knock shrine is a “momentous event”.
He said: “It is most fitting that it would be announced and celebrated on the Feast of Saint Joseph in the Year of Saint Joseph, because alongside Our Lady, Saint John the Evangelist and the Lamb of God, Saint Joseph also appeared here on that August evening in 1879. 
Knock is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ireland and attracts one and a half million people every year.
The upgrade elevates the shrine to the same status as Lourdes and Fatima.