The annual procession at Novena Church in Singapore, held every year on the 1st Sunday of September, has always been known for its warm welcome and large crowds. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, numbers at the procession since the last full-scale celebration in 2019 have been restricted. However, the Redemptorists could not imagine cancelling an event that was so close to the people’s hearts. In 2020, the procession was entirely virtual and held behind closed doors.
Limited numbers and social distancing are not the style of the God that we believe in. A God who took on our human nature in Jesus Christ to share our life and who has given us Mary to be our mother and intercessor. This is a God who does not distance himself from us, especially when we are in need. This is the faith that inspired the organising committee when they organised the mobile procession.
The icon, typically carried in the procession, was transported in a lorry around Singapore past national landmarks. The Redemptorists needed a safe pair of hands to drive the icon around the island, and few are more experienced than 48-year Novena Church veteran Joe Roger. “I came to Novena Church when my mother passed away when I was very young, and I found a home. I was thrilled when I was asked to drive the lorry, and it was great honour and pleasure to drive Our Lady. By the grace of God, everything went smoothly.”
As well as to several parishes, the icon was also brought to Agape Village (a Catholic social services centre), Mt. Alvernia Hospital (run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Divine Motherhood) Cannossaville Children and Community Services and Montfort Secondary School. These communities organised prayer services following safe distancing regulations. These organisations represented the church’s outreach in social mission, education, healthcare and pastoral care to the faithful.
Said Mr. Edwyn de Souza, 61, pastoral coordinator of Novena Church, “As we were trying to organise the procession, we encountered obstacles as the nation went into heightened alert. We wanted to remind the devotees that even though they could not come to see our Blessed Mother at Novena Church, she is close to them, especially through this pandemic.”
These special visits of our Blessed Mother were well received. “My colleagues and I were very excited when Novena Church offered to bring the icon to Agape Village,” said Mr. Gordon Pinto, the General Manager. “Some of those who came to the prayer services, which included non-Catholic staff, were in tears as they missed the Saturday novena so much, and many shared stories of their devotion to her. I was really amazed!”
Relaxed government restrictions in 2021 allowed for 500 people to be present at the procession. Four hundred were selected by ballot from among the faithful. Among those selected were Wilson Johnson and his wife Maria Philomena. “This is my mother’s house,” said Philomena. “I come here whenever I have problems or when I want to give thanks. I have attended every procession, and I was so excited when I got the call to inform me that I was selected.”
The other 100 congregants included 48 guests from a nursing home. This project was coordinated by The Sowers, the social mission ministry of Novena Church. “These are our brothers and sisters who wouldn’t normally be able to attend the procession. This year, we had a chance to offer them special hospitality, and we feel very blessed to be able to do this,” said 36-year-old Dominic Tan, a social worker and member of The Sowers.
In his homily, Fr. Alvinrex, CSsR, a member of the Bangalore Province assigned as a formator in Singapore, emphasised the significant role that Novena Church has played in the 200-year history of the Catholic faith in Singapore. In the 70 years of its existence, it has always been a place of prayer and preaching, a centre of evangelization that has brought countless people to the Catholic faith.
The event was broadcast live on YouTube, which drew more than 40,000 viewers and on Facebook Live, which attracted a further 15,000.
Covid-19 restrictions have challenged the church to be creative in its outreach. With the grace of God and hard work from the organising committee, Novena Church was able to remind people that Mary truly is Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Gerard Louis, C.Ss.R.
See the webpage of the Redemptorist Novena Church in Singapore.