Redemptorist novenas are `major religious events'
Ireland's four Redemptorist novenas this summer have attracted up to 300,000 people.
Every June, Redemptorists gather in Belfast, Esker (Athenry, Co Galway), Ballinasloe and Limerick to celebrate nine days of prayer (novena).
These four nine-day events are attended by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, as they meet to pray in a community setting in the presence of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Earlier this year, the Redemptorists in Ireland, together with all 26 Catholic Cathedrals celebrated the 150th anniversary of veneration to the Mother of Perpetual Help with individual events in the form of a pilgrimage.
The Pilgrimage Icon, which travelled Ireland in April is visiting all four June novenas.
Celebrations in Ballinasloe and Esker have already drawn to a close.
The Clonard novena started on June 15 and runs until June 23 while the Limerick novena will run until June 25.
While Clonard is a local festival of faith with a strong west Belfast feel, organisers reach out to the hearts and homes of people from many other places including overseas via its webcam.
Preachers, guest speakers from other churches, musicians, singers and volunteer stewards and staff received high praise with three special services being rated very highly; the anointing of the sick, the services for babies and young people.
Papal Nuncio Archbishop Charles Brown was among the guests this year. He attended a youth session on June 19.
Fr Seamus Enright, Rector of Mount St Alphonsus, said the novena celebrations had become "a major religious event in themselves".
"We are all aware on the thousands of Irish people who walk the Camino each year and perhaps not so much about the 300,000 people who attend our four novenas each June," he said.
"Each year the novena has a particular scripture-based theme which is then further developed in nine homilies over the nine days. The theme this year is Mary, Icon of God's Mercy, linking the 150 years of Redemptorist devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help with Pope Francis' Year of Mercy.
"In exploring this theme we will affirm the devotion to Our Lady, which is very important for people in Ireland and elsewhere, while also responding to the call and vision of Pope Francis in this Holy Year of Mercy. In organising these annual novenas we are responding to the wishes of our local communities and many who travel long distances to participate. We Redemptorists are actively engaged in the novenas, together with significant numbers of lay people, who now lead the novenas in various ways."