THE annual Clonard Novena got off to an "amazing" start in west Belfast yesterday as thousands of people came together under sunny skies for the start of nine days of prayer.
The first session at 6.45am was packed with worshippers, including many workers with an early start to their day.
Around 10,000 people are expected to attend the Redemptorist church every day during the novena.
Spread across 10 sessions on weekdays and nine at the weekend, many took advantage of the sunshine yesterday by sitting outside and listening to Mass on the loudspeakers.
Each session was addressed by newly-installed Rector, Fr Peter Burns, who said the 2019 novena had got off to an "amazing" start.
"The fact the sun was shining makes a huge difference," he said.
"The first sessions have gone smoothly. Once it is under way, it runs itself.
"The first session on the first day is really, really amazing. It's wonderful".
Among the crowd was mother-of-three Shonagh Tumelty, who had brought along her 16-day-old daughter Aoife Bridget.
The 34-year-old from Clonard said she comes every year.
"I have brought all my wee girls. It's the first day and I wanted to bring her," she said.
"I find peace here. It makes you feel good".
Also among the crowd was Lenadoon grandmother Mary Mallon, who had brought her three-year-old grandson Cian Maguire.
"This has continued from I was young," she said.
"I have always come and brought my kids and my grandchildren. I feel a peace."
The Clonard Novena runs until Thursday June 27.
Mass with anointing of the sick will take place on Saturday at 11am, 12.45pm and 3pm, while a blessing of babies and children will be on Sunday at 3pm.