The first chartered pilgrimage from the archdiocese of New York will depart for Knock Shrine tomorrow on the first ever transatlantic flight by Aer Lingus to Ireland West Airport Knock.

On board, will be Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan who will open this year’s national novena at the shrine on August 14 before returning to New York on August 16.

In a further plethora of firsts, about 200 people are expected to join Cardinal Dolan on the flight that will not only be the first official chartered pilgrimage to Ireland’s national Marian shrine from anywhere in the world but the first diocesan pilgrimage from the archdiocese of New York to the Marian shrine at Knock.

Knock parish priest Fr. Richard Gibbons has described the pilgrimage from New York as “a very important and historic step for the promotion of Knock”.

He continued to note that it was for this purpose that Ireland West Airport Knock was originally built, “specifically to welcome pilgrims to Knock shrine as well as to develop the economic life of the west.

“Monsignor James Horan [longtime parish priest in Knock who worked hard to establish it as a world religious site], I’m sure, would be very proud.”

“Knock Shrine holds a special place in the hearts of our Diaspora and, in the Catholic tradition, pilgrimage plays a significant role in renewing people’s faith and we are delighted to facilitate that,” he continued.

"One of our great hopes is that the upcoming pilgrimage from the Archdiocese of New York will inspire many others to make the journey home, to have the opportunity to have the unique experience of pilgrimage at Knock Shrine.”

Cardinal Dolan will open the novena on August 14 with a mass in the Basilica of Our Lady, Queen of Ireland, in Knock. The trip to Mayo will not be confined to Knock, however. New York pilgrims will travel to Lough Derg, the Burren, tour the Ring of Kerry, trip to Galway and celebrate the Feast of the Assumption in Croagh Patrick Visitor Center and Ballintubber Abbey during their nine-day trip.

Daniel Frascella, the New York archdiocesan coordinator for pilgrimages, believes that this will be the first of regular international pilgrimages from New York.

“There is a rich history and heritage, especially in the Western region of Ireland, we’re hoping to bring pilgrims to with the Cardinal,” Frascella said.

“People of Irish descent in New York can reconnect with the spiritual heritage that is part of so many Catholics in the archdiocese.”

The transatlantic pilgrimage is also a great boost for Knock Shrine's Witness to Hope initiative, a project aimed at promoting Knock at home and across the world.

Scottish airline Flyglobespan previously attempted to establish a transatlantic service to Knock using the airport as a stop-off point on flights from JFK/Boston to Glasgow. The service was discontinued after a season, however, and the carrier shut down in 2009.

Knock Shrine is a Roman Catholic pilgrimage site and National Shrine in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, where it is claimed there was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, John the Evangelist, angels, and Jesus Christ in 1879.

This year’s novena will continue at the shrine until August 22.