Online Clonard Novena brings comfort to those logging on
THE annual Clonard Novena got underway on Friday but there were none of the familiar crowds as the event went virtual for the first time.
Instead of the usual packed car parks and crowded church, corridors and gardens in west Belfast, worshippers logged on to follow proceedings.
The nine-day Novena in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help normally draws more than 100,000 visitors every year but has had to move online due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Redemptorist community are broadcasting four sessions at day at www.clonard.com/web-cam - at 7am, 9.30am, 6.15pm and 8pm.
Clonard church is also open from 10.30am to 5pm to allow people to submit petitions and thanksgivings.
Among those logging on yesterday was west Belfast pensioner Margaret Mallon.
The 83-year-old great-grandmother, who lives in Whiterock Gardens, went online for the 7am session.
Her son John said his mother had missed Clonard when it was closed and loved being online for the first session.
"She couldn't wait to be watching and listening to it," he said.
"She sits with her headphones on. Sometimes, she will start singing and praying out loud.
"She was praying for everyone."
Mr Mallon said the online Novena was "a real blessing".
"It brings her a great deal of comfort," he said.
"She finds it amazing that she can look at Clonard and it is live and she participating in everything".
Seán Óg Mac Corraidh (31), a teacher from Andersonstown, also logged on at 7am.
"It was a bit strange initially, seeing the place empty," he said.
"I put in petitions and I just found it comforting, especially in these times. I thought the music was lovely too.
"It's not the same but of course it is the best you can do in a bad situation."
Fr Peter Burns, Rector of Clonard, said apart from a few technical issues in the morning, things had gone well.
"At the beginning of the 9.30am session we had a few calls saying that the live stream didn't seem to be working," he said.
"We got in touch with Church Services and asked them to look at it. As far as I know, it got sorted.
"I suppose some technical hitches are inevitable, especially if there's a surge in the numbers coming online. But we'll keep a close eye on it."
Fr Burns said they began the first online session by showing "a picture of the whole church" as it was "striking" due to being empty.
"In the past three months, we in Clonard have become increasingly aware of how many people were joining us online for the Community Prayer and online Masses," he said.
"So, even though we can't see them, we're certain that there are many thousands who will be part of this year's Novena.
"So, we're under way. And, please God, it will be a time of blessing for very many people."