A welcome back to the fold in Limerick

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15-6-14 The Annual Solemn Novena in honour of Our Mother of PerpOVER 90,000 took up the open invitation of the Redemptorist Community at Mount Saint Alphonsus Church this week to partake in its annual celebration of faith. Limerick Post’s Alan Jacques, who confessed that he hasn’t RSVP-ed for many years, was among the flock at Limerick’s Solemn Novena.

“YOU look like a crowd that tweets,” Fr Adrian Egan told the congregation on opening day of Limerick’s Solemn Novena at the city’s Redemptorist Church.

“We’re on twitter and facebook and, for those who can’t be here physically, we’re live on the internet, broadcasting 24-hours a day,” he declared, heralding the beginning of the nine-day festival of community prayer.

Not quiet up there with the exasperating bombast of U2’s ‘Zoo TV Tour’, but you have to hand it to ‘The Fathers’, who’ve most definitely moved with the times and plugged into social media to creatively spread the ‘good news’.

And, while the technology was undoubtedly hi-tech and modern, the message at this year’s Novena was timeworn, but inspiring and totally relevant to 2014 nonetheless.

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Scandals continue to rock the Catholic Church and there’s no doubting this has impacted on its dwindling flock. But, new ‘CEO’, Pope Francis, has helped steer its course back to its origins, concentrating on the poor, the marginalised and those adrift in society. By refusing the trappings of his Papal office and imitating Jesus; by living a more humble and simple existence, and above all showing his solidarity and concern for the downtrodden, business has, once again, started to boom.

Pope Francis’ uncomplicated yet powerful message was the theme of this year’s Novena in Limerick, preached with passion and sincerity to an estimated 90,000 people at the city’s annual celebration of faith.

I hadn’t “done the Novena”, as we say in Limerick, since I was a pup, but I was glad to be welcomed back into the fold and very moved by this ideal of building “a poor church for the poor”.

While I’ve always had a strong faith, in recent years I have, like many others, mostly only attended church for weddings, funerals and baptisms.

It was the muddying of the new Pontiff’s noble messages in bygone days from sanctimonious, holier than thou priests, who themselves carried more baggage than the carousel at Shannon Airport, that had turned me off the institution of the Catholic Church during the height of its scandals.

15-6-14 The Annual Solemn Novena in honour of Our Mother of Perp

However, I always believed that faith is something you live and not preach and, praise the Lord, this was the message being heralded loudly and clearly at the Fathers all this week.

Business was brisk. All the services I attended were filled to capacity with young and old in equal numbers.

Personally, I found the Novena a thoroughly welcoming, joyous and heartening experience. I also noted a real sense of communion, which left me all fuzzy with a warm Ready Brek-like glow.

Over nine days, thousands of people came together in unity to pray and give thanks, and you could not help but be touched by some of the personal petitions being read out during the Novena services.

People’s petitions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help ranged from one frightened man’s prayers for positive test results after a cancer scare to a distraught family praying for their ill teenager daughter facing treatment in America. A concerned mother prayed that her depressed son would find employment, while another woman simply prayed for sunshine weather during the Special Olympics.

Rather than a robotic and jaded cycle of standing, sitting and kneeling accompanied by hackneyed sermons from some dull as dishwater priests going through the motions, Limerick’s Solemn Novena was presented in full glorious technicolor. First and foremost it is a celebration of faith, but it is all inclusive, it is a party to which everyone is invi

15-6-14 The Annual Solemn Novena in honour of Our Mother of Perp

ted.

The Novena services continually put the focus, not on our failings, but on God’s “mad crazy love” for each an every one of us. No matter what your believe, the Redemptorists’ radiated hope and expressed a strong desire for a commitment to the poor and the hurting, with their simple and impassioned retelling of the Gospel’s teachings.

I brought my seven-year-old to one of the services and afterwards he opined, “Daddy, the priest was really excited”. Animated he certainly was, and it was refreshing to be part of it, whether you were seven or 77.

At a special Novena for Holy First Communion classes last Monday, hundreds of seven-year-olds were asked to come up onto the altar and find Jesus. After a quick rummage around the tabernacle and communion table, the perplexed youngsters were then gleefully informed that he lives in all of us.

For me, the Novena gave a wonderful opportunity to rekindle some of my own faltering trust in the Church and to experience once again, that magical childlike sense of wonderment that I too felt at seven-years-old.

Limerick’s Solemn Novena runs until this Saturday, June 21.