Northern Ireland

Novena celebration gets underway at Clonard Monastery

Clonard Monastery
Image caption The Novena at Clonard Monastery still attracts huge crowds to west Belfast

The Catholic church on Belfast's Falls Road draws pilgrims from across Northern Ireland every June.

The annual Festival of Faith is rooted in Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary and nine successive days of services known as a novena.

About 15,000 people are expected to attend the sessions at Clonard Monastery in west Belfast.

The monastery has recently been restored and the roof and floor have been replaced.

Father Michael Murtagh said the renovation has been completed successfully

"We are very happy and relieved that we have reached this stage," he said.

"The tiles were in tatters but they have now been cleaned. We have also installed under floor heating and the building is now ready for the traditional schedule of services."

Celebration of faith

The novena now also has a large online following: "For the last seven or eight years we have been broadcasting live on the internet and we have around 5,000 people watching the services each day." said Father Murtagh.

"It's an experience of God and it's really an experience of the church at it's best. People are really lifted out of whatever is dragging them down and they get a lift in faith and a lift in hope."

According to tradition the novena will end with a sing-a-long led by the priest.

During the war years, Clonard was a place of shelter for the citizens of west Belfast when Catholics and Protestants sheltered together in the vaults of the church during air raids.

But the monastery, which sits on Belfast's peace line, also has a special significance in Northern Ireland's peace process.

Several of its redemptorist priests were involved as intermediaries between republicans and others in the political establishment at various key times in the Troubles.

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