Each day, they came from the darkness of the morning, right through the day to the darkness of the night.
Before the sun was up, the cars were filling up the spaces across St Alphonsus Road at the County Hall and leisure centre, and all along the road itself.
By seven o’clock each morning St Josephs’ was full for the St Gerard’s Novena, a thousand people, whose ages ranged from eight months to eighty years.
Each day the petitions to St Gerard were filled out.
All of them were carefully gathered and bound in bundles with red ribbon. Most were heartbreaking: pleas from the troubled in our very troubled world. But this is a festival of faith. There is innocence and good humour too.
“Dear St Gerard. I want to do really, really, well at school. I want more money for Mam and Dad. And I want a dog.”
“Dear St Gerard. I’m sorry I’ll miss this year’s novena, but herself indoors has decided we’re going to Sorrento. There are 52 weeks in the year and she had to pick this one.”
Reflections on the journey of faith and the Church in the past fifty years, since the Vatican Council, was the theme of this year’s novena.
The Redemptorist family look upon Pope Francis as a breath of fresh air, a bit like Pope John, who started the Vatican Council back in 1961. That pope said he wanted to open a window and let in some fresh air.
Pope Francis, the first Pope to be ordained since the council, has re-opened the window that was closed and boarded up over the last fifty years.
He wants a church for everybody, or as one preacher at the novena put it: “a church not of lace, but of grace”.
The power days are over. “The sweep of ambitious cassocks on cold marble floors”, as the Belfast novelist Brian Moore put it, is no longer what the Church is about.
This Pope has recreated the oportunity for change that Vatican Two had hoped to introduce.
A Church that will learn, listen, and look at itself.
There was a sense of a new era about to begin in the tone of this year’s talks at the novena.
A message of hope.