THOUSANDS are preparing to attend the annual Clonard Novena in west Belfast over the next nine days.
Last year’s event was the first to take place in person after two years of disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Held in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a total of six sessions will be held each day between Wednesday and June 22.
Fr Peter Burns, Rector of Clonard, explained how this year’s theme would be “a new vision of church”.
It follows a pastoral letter from the Bishop of Derry – who is also Apostolic Administrator for Down and Connor - Donal McKeown, outlining how a growing shortage of priests means more lay people will need to become more involved in the running of the church.
Fr Burns said: “He realises…and we all realise that the church is going through a very significant period of renewal.
“We’re at a very important transition in the church.”
During the Novena, Fr Burns said it was a chance for those attending to consider what the future of the church will look like.
“It involves all of us and it’s very challenging, but it’s also potentially very exciting.
“So, this year, the theme will be to reflect on and to celebrate that renewal which is happening in the church.
“And we very much look forward to all of you joining us during those days.”
He added that while many people had drifted away from the church for various reasons, he said the Novena was an important opportunity to communicate with them and show them they were welcome.
This Saturday, there will be a Special Blessing of the Sick taking place at all masses, while on Sunday evening a youth session with Mass is to be held at 8pm.
Monday will also include the traditional custom of an Inter-Church Day.