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Faith Matters

Festival follows the footsteps of St Patrick

Armagh's two cathedrals named after St Patrick are illuminated in green. Ireland's ecclesiastical capital is inextricably linked to the saint.

THE witness of St Patrick will be celebrated in Ireland and beyond next week, and to help mark and explore the life of Ireland's patron saint a 17-day festival is taking place around counties Armagh and Down.

Called 'The Home of St Patrick Festival', it includes a programme of Irish music, theatre, art, comedy and religious-themed events in locations where Patrick walked and worked.

The full programme of events can be viewed at www.stpatrickscountry.com but here are seven faith-flavoured festival highlights:

1. The March Bells - until March 19

Churches and places of worship across cities, towns and counties come together to symbolically celebrate the patron saint by ringing their bells for a short time at 17.17 - or 5.17pm, in old money - for the duration of the festival.

2. Celebrate St Patrick's Choir Concert - 7pm Saturday March 11, Down Cathedral, Downpatrick

Conductor and musician John Anderson convenes and conducts choirs from across Ireland and abroad in communal singing of hymns, with Irish music and musicians.

3. Gospel Spiritual Songs - 4pm Sunday March 12, Down Cathedral, Downpatrick

An afternoon concert of gospel spiritual songs with Ruby Philogene, who has performed at the Royal Opera House in London and with the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, La Monnaie Royal Opera in Brussels and the San Francisco Symphony.

4. Voice of the Irish Concert - 7.30pm Sunday March 19, Newry Cathedral

The festival's closing concert takes its inspiration from St Patrick writing in his Confessio that it was literally "the voice of the Irish" calling to him to return and to introduce Christianity to Ireland.

It will be performed by the Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland with its own inspirational complement of up to 100 young musicians.

5. St Patrick's Vigil Lecture - 1pm Thursday March 16, Market Place Theatre, Armagh

On the eve of St Patrick's Day, Archbishops of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke and Dr Eamon Martin will speak about what St Patrick means to them in a modern world. They will be joined by Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

From 9pm, the vigil commences at the Church of Ireland cathedral before the congregation, with torchlight, moves to its Catholic counterpart - a symbolic expression of the unity of the churches is a reflection of uniting the Irish people with Christianity.

6. Mass in Irish - 10.30am Friday March 17, St Patrick's Church, Downpatrick

7. Cross Community Service - 11.45am Friday March 17, Down Cathedral, Downpatrick

Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte and Shane Logan, CEO of Ulster Rugby, will be the speakers.

Faith Matters

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