Thousands expected in west Belfast for the annual Clonard Novena
THOUSANDS of pilgrims are expected to descend on west Belfast today for the first day of the annual Clonard Novena.
More than 100,000 people will visit the monastery over the next nine days to take part in the famous Novena in honour of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
The theme of this year's event, which runs from June 13 to June 21, is `The joy of love: Family life today'.
This year's preachers include Fr Michael Cusack, from Dundalk, Co Louth, Fr Adrian Egan from Clonard, Fr Peter McCarthy, an Irish Redemptorist from Brazil and Fr Kevin O’Neil, a Redemptorist working in New Jersey in the US.
The nine-day prayer event is made up of 10 sessions every weekday and nine sessions on Saturday and on Sunday.
In the lead up to this year's novena a new app was launched.
The Clonard app, which is free to download, will allow worshippers, volunteers and friends around the world to receive updates about ceremonies and events through alerts and notifications.
Other options on the app include prayer resources, daily reflections, information on Mass and confession times and direct access to live streaming via the webcam.
Speaking ahead of the first day of the novena Fr Noel Kehoe said "everyone" was welcome.
"It's a wonderful event, building on the novena of last year," said the Clonard rector.
Fr Kehoe said the finishing touches to the church, monastery and grounds were being carried out ahead of the novena.
"Everything is more or less under control," he said.
"The marquee and the TV systems have been brought in and the shop structure arrived. All the rotas are done. There was a big meeting last night with preachers and confessors and celebrants. Visitors and preachers have been arriving from all around the world.
"The new railings are up and looking beautiful and the hanging baskets have gone up as well," he said, adding Clonard had "got its facelift" ahead of welcoming the thousands of worshippers it is expecting to the event.