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Novena of Grace – ‘different but rewarding’

Christine Halloran is Pastoral Assistant at Saint Francis Xavier’s Church, Gardiner Street, Dublin. Below, she reflects on the parish’s online Novena of Grace entitled ‘Let Us Dream’ that ran from 4 to 12 March, 2021. It included a musical tribute to the Zambian peacemaker, Fr Charles Chilinda SJ (see image above), who preached at the Novena in 2017.

Hope for the Future 

On Friday, 12 March, Fr Leonard Moloney, Irish Jesuit Provincial, celebrated the final mass of the annual nine-day Novena of Grace in St Francis Xavier’s Church, bringing the 159th Novena at Gardiner Street to a close.

Fr Moloney opened the mass with a whole-hearted apology to all the survivors of abuse suffered at the hands of Fr Joseph Marmion SJ during his time as a teacher in Belvedere College and other Jesuit schools.

He urged the online congregation to join him in remembering all of the survivors of, or witnesses to abuse. He asked that their families and their friends be remembered too. “We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future,” Fr Moloney said, adding that “The survivors who are engaging with us have given us the hope that we can help to do that with them”.

The Provincial’s candid introduction led the online congregation into a solemn, prayerful Eucharistic celebration, the high point of which was the post-communion recorded song played in tribute to the late Charles Chilinda SJ. Charles preached at the Novena in 2017. Sadly he is numbered among the many who have succumbed to Covid-19.

As Director of Loyola Media, Charles was renowned in Zambia for being a peacemaker, a nation-builder and a unifier. He worked tirelessly to help bring political figures together in an effort to bring an end to political conflict. The group of singers and musicians who accompanied Fr Chilinda to Gardiner Street in 2017 recorded the very moving song in his honour.

The past year has proven to be a challenging one for the parish team at Gardiner Street. Like so many churches around the country and the world, the team faced many obstacles in relation to government restrictions around the Coronavirus pandemic.

Establishing a sense of ‘normality’ with the continuity of church services, not to mention long-standing religious traditions like the Novena of Grace, required heightened levels of creativity and ingenuity.

New ways of ‘being church’ had to be implemented, and so the parish team decided to forego the normal webcam mass and chose instead to broadcast this year’s Novena via Zoom and Facebook.

It was hoped that the use of technology would facilitate the casting of a wider net and so allow as many as possible to participate. Inspiration and the title for this year’s Novena came from Pope Francis’ book, Let us Dream. Fr John Callanan SJ, Dr Jessie Rogers and Fr Ashley Evans SJ were the chosen preachers, and each of them based their homilies on a chapter from the book.

Fr Gerry Clarke and the team have been overwhelmed by the volume of positive feedback received to date –“Thank you Fr Gerry and all the team at Gardiner Street for another wonderful Novena of Grace. This year was different but equally rewarding”.

Along with this, generous monetary donations received online, by post, or dropped into the church shop are a clear and unequivocal affirmation that a huge number of people participated in, and benefitted from this year’s online format.

In light of these very positive signs, the team is considering (should restrictions still be in place) following a similar format for the upcoming Novena of the Sacred Heart which will begin on 3 June and will finish on 11 June, The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

With the successful delivery of the nine-day novena quickly fading into memory, the focus at Gardiner Street has shifted to Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. Jake Martin SJ will facilitate a Lenten Movie Nights programme on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings of Holy Week at 7.30pm via Zoom.

Easter Services will be paired back in so far as government guidelines can be adhered to. Details of all Holy Week services can be found on the Gardiner Street Website: www.gardinerstparish.ie.

Finally, following the success of the Autumn and Springtime Spirituality Series of workshops, plans are underway for another series post-Easter. This will run over four or five Saturday mornings from 11.30am to 1.00pm.

The hope is that they will enable further exploration of some of the key Ignatian themes and spiritual practices, presented in Let Us Dream, such as personal prayer and discernment.

Christine Halloran

March 2021