Clonard Novena returns with in-person masses after two years of virtual services due to Covid-19 pandemic
THE Clonard Novena returns with in-person masses this week following two years of virtual services due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but there will be a reduction in the number of sessions per day.
Thousands of people are set to attend the annual novena in Clonard Monastery in west Belfast with two Protestant ministers among the preachers this year.
The popular nine-day event, held each year in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, will begin on Wednesday and runs until June 23.
It attracts visitors from across Ireland and beyond, with 'Let Us Dream' - the name of a book by Pope Francis - the theme this year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Novena has been held virtually for the past two years with tens of thousands of worshippers around the world tuning in via the Clonard webcam.
But Fr Peter Burns, rector of Clonard, said they are delighted to be back in person.
"It is three years since we last held an in-church solemn novena, which was in 2019, last year and the year before because of Covid it had to be online only," he said.
"So we are really looking forward to having this year a live novena."
However, he said they are "still conscious that Covid is still about" and there will be a reduction in the number of Novena sessions each day from 10 to six.
"While thankfully life has been returning to some kind of normality, the fact is Covid hasn't disappeared completely, there are still a number of people who are infected - I myself was flattened just a few weeks ago with the virus," he said.
"With that in mind and because we have no way of knowing how many people will attend this year, we decided to reduce the number of novena sessions each day from 10 to six.
"There will be three sessions each morning - 7am, 9.30am and 11.30am and then at 4pm, 6pm and 8pm.
"Our own resources are much more diminished these days, so there will be six sessions each day and that will make things much more manageable for us.
"We are an ageing community in Clonard, but we have asked and we are receiving a good response from the diocesean clergy."
Fr Burns also said following two years of online services, it was important to continue to cater for virtual users.
"Over the last three years we have become very conscious of the thousands of people who join Clonard every day via the webcam so this year they will be a significant part of the congregation celebrating the novena each day," he said.
"There are still people who don't feel sufficiently comfortable back in church and there are also thousands of people across the world who want to join in with the novena.
"But otherwise the novena will be very much as we remember it - there will be a great atmosphere of being together with others, people joining in the singing and the prayers each day and listening to a varied team of preachers."
Fr Burns said confession boxes in the church will not be used this year, "but instead the confessions will be celebrated in two portacabins which will be outside the church".
"There also will not be a children's service this year, instead we will continue to pray for children and our young people throughout," he added.
He said this year two Presbyterian ministers and a layman from the diocese of Ferns will also preach at the masses.
"Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast and Rev Ruth Patterson of Restoration Ministries will be part of the Novena team this year," he said.
"We also have layman Neil Foley from Wexford joining us too, we have never had anyone other than us.
"This is new for us, this is breaking new ground."