Fred and Paddy Sheridan at the Childrens Novena in the Redemptorist Church Picture: Oisin McHugh
SHORTLY after the break of dawn on Friday morning, the first hymns of the annual Solemn Novena celebrations could be heard, echoing from the Redemptorist Church in the city.
The first round of prayer sessions started at 7am at Mount St Alphonsus, which garnered a “packed house” according to organisers.
And until June 24, it is expected that up to 100,000 people from across the Mid-West will travel to the South Circular Road church to pray to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
In 1977, the Limerick Leader described the celebration as one the largest religious events in Western Europe. And, according to Redemptorist rector Fr Seamus Enright, that billing remains — describing it as “the Munster final of religion”.
This year’s festivities covers a number of firsts, including their a multimedia marketing campaign; the extension of novena prayers to the 250 inmates of Limerick Prison; and themed focus on modern family life.
Fr Enright said that the emphasis on family will act as preparation for the triennial World Meeting of Families event in Dublin in 2018, which it is hoped Pope Francis will attend.
“The definition of family isn’t as simple as it was in the past. As well as married couples, there are couples who are living together, lone parents, couples who are divorced and remarried, same sex couples, single people living on their own, and so on. And this variety of family combinations brings a lot of challenges,” Fr Enright said.
We met a number of loyal novena followers, who considered this year’s celebration a “special one” because of the theme ‘Home is You and Me’.
Gary and Teresa Lawlor, Rosbrien, said that they used to bring their children to the annual event every year. When asked what family meant to them, Mr Lawlor replied, with a smile: “Family means everything to me. If you haven’t family, you have nothing.”
Kathleen Barrett, of Janesboro, is a stalwart of the annual festivities, attending for more than 50 years. Though she said that she could not explain the allure of the novena, she that there is a “nice feeling being here”.
And asked what she was praying for this year, she said: “I just pray that my family will be happy, and that we will be all well-cared for.”
A number of highlights of the week have included the blessing of babies and children last Sunday afternoon, a celebration for First Communion classes this Monday morning and the coming special session for the sick and elderly on Saturday.
The 10.30pm session each evening will have a more reflective atmosphere through the use of Taize music and candlelight, and is especially popular with younger people.
According to Fr Enright, a key ingredient of the Novena is the opportunity to write out prayers of petition and of thanksgiving.
“A Novena session is never just a collection of individuals at prayer,” he says. “It is a community at prayer, the church in prayer. In a real sense, it is we the people. Everyone is welcome and everyone is included.”