BALLINA, Ireland (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden broke down in tears on Friday after a chance meeting at an Irish church with the priest who performed the last rites on his son Beau, a priest who accompanied Biden during the visit said.
Father Richard Gibbons, who led Biden on a tour of the Catholic shrine of Knock, said he had not known that one of his colleagues, ex-U.S. Army chaplain Father Frank O’Grady, had performed the sacrament until the president arrived.
Beau Biden, the president’s eldest son, died in the United States in 2015 from brain cancer. Biden has often said that Beau, a former Delaware attorney general, should be president instead of him.
“It just so happened, and this is spontaneous, that we have working at the shrine here the chaplain who gave the last rites, the last anointing, to his son in the United States,” Gibbons told the BBC.
“He (President Biden) wanted to meet him straight away, he dispatched a secret service agent to go and find him. He was crying, it really affected him and then we said a prayer, we said a decade of the rosary for his family, lit a candle and he took a moment or two of private prayer.”
“He laughed, he cried and 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.”
O’Grady, an Irish priest who worked at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington D.C., described his 10-minute meeting with Biden, his son Hunter and the president’s sister Valerie as a “nice chat.”
“He was delighted to see me and I was delighted to see him. He gave me a big hug. Hunter gave me a big hug. It was like a reunion,” O’Grady told Irish state broadcaster RTE.
“His faith sustained him in the past at that difficult time and still does,” O’Grady said. “I said to him he has challenges coming up and he said he has.”
Biden, who is wrapping up a three-day trip to Ireland, later visited a nearby County Mayo hospice where he broke ground ahead of 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 pause and inspect the plaque with his family before entering the hospice to meet the staff.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Ballina and Padraic Halpin in Dublin; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis)