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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lisa O'Carroll and Rory Carroll

Joe Biden breaks down as he meets priest who gave his son the last rites

Joe Biden with Hunter and Valerie
Joe Biden with his son Hunter (left) and his sister Valerie (right) looking at a plaque dedicated to his late son Beau at Mayo Roscommon hospice. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

Joe Biden broke down in tears on the final day of his four-day trip to Ireland after a chance meeting with the priest who gave his son Beau the last rites before he died in 2015.

Fr Richard Gibbons, parish priest and rector of Knock Shrine, said Fr Frank O’Grady – the chaplain who was by Beau Biden’s side as he died – had moved to Knock to work there, leading to an unplanned meeting with the president.

“It just so happened – and this was kind of spontaneous – it just so happened that we have, working at the shrine here, the chaplain who gives the last rites of the last anointing to his son in the United States,” the priest said.

“Just extraordinary, and I didn’t even know that, I didn’t know that until the president arrived. He laughed, he cried, it just kind of hit the man, you could just [see] how deeply it all felt and meant to him.

“It was an extraordinary afternoon. I won’t forget it, I can tell you that it was quite something else,” he told the BBC.

Fr Richard Gibbons and Joe Biden touched the original wall of Knock Shrine, where Mary, mother of Jesus, is believed to have appeared in 1879.
Fr Richard Gibbons and Joe Biden touched the original wall of Knock Shrine, where Mary, mother of Jesus, is believed to have appeared in 1879. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

The former army chaplain O’Grady later told Sky News: “He didn’t know I worked here. So when … I saw him, he was a bit emotional. The last time we met was when his son was very ill eight years ago and it all came back to him.”

He told RTE that he was surprised to be called because he knew it was a private visit and only a select number of people were allowed into the basilica.

“I met in the apparition chapel, himself, and his son Hunter and also sister. We had a nice chat for about 10 minutes. He was delighted to see me and I was delighted to see him. He gave me a big hug and Hunter gave me a big hug. It was like a reunion,” said O’Grady.

“I said to him he was a person of great faith and he said the faith sustained him in the past, in that difficult time, and still does.”

The death of his son, who was attorney general for Delaware, had a profound impact on Biden, who on Thursday told the Irish parliament that he hadn’t intended to run for president in 2020 in the wake of his son’s passing.

“You know, I hadn’t planned on running for president again in 2020. My son Beau, who had just died of stage 4 glioblastoma after coming back from Iraq after a year … He was the attorney general of Delaware. As a matter of fact, he should be the one standing here giving this speech to you,” he said.

Biden, who is wrapping up his trip to Ireland, made a private visit to the shrine, which is an important pilgrimage site for practising Catholics as it marks the spot where Mary, mother of Jesus, was supposed to have appeared on a wet, dark August evening in 1879.

Biden later visited a nearby County Mayo hospice, where he broke ground at its construction in 2017. A plaque on the ground at the entrance to the hospice is dedicated to Beau Biden.

The president, a devout Catholic, took a moment to look at the plaque before entering the hospice to meet the staff.

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