Those familiar with what has come to be referred to as the Novena area of Singapore would probably know of an event, the Novena Procession in honour of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, once a year which sees crowds filling the two terraces used as car parking space in front of Novena Church. The event, held every first Sunday in September, is one which through much of its history, has also brought much colour to the area with beautiful floral decorations being put up on the church’s rather well known façade and on the two retaining walls flanking the church.
This year’s event which was held on 1 September 2013, which attracted a crowd of some 10,000, was one which also celebrated its 60th anniversary in Singapore and is the 61st edition of a tradition which was started by Fr. William Dowling in 1953. From the inaugural procession held on 21 June 1953, the annual event has attracted huge crowds – there have been occasions when crowds spilled onto the slopes leading down to Thomson Road and even the sidewalks on both sides of the busy street. The significance of the occasion also saw the Archbishop of Singapore, The Most Rev Msgr William Goh; the Superior General of the Redemptorists Fr. Michael Brehl; and Fr Patrick Massang , the Vice-Provincial of Singapore/Malaysia in attendance with Fr. Brehl giving the sermon.
The procession which for many in the crowd, including for one man who has attended every procession since 1953, is a means to thank Mary, “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” for the many intercessions made and would have involved nine weeks of devotions in the lead-up to it. The practice of devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is one that is popular with many followers and non-followers of the Catholic faith in Singapore and is one which sees the devotional sessions held every Saturday at the church, packed through the day. The devotional session is called a ‘Novena’ from the Latin word ‘novem‘ for nine as it does involve prayers made over nine consecutive occasions and is what has given its name not only to the church (which properly is the Church of St. Alphonsus), but also to the area and to the MRT station which now serves the area. The practice is one that is promoted by the religious community which runs the church, the Redemptorists, who traced their history in Singapore back to 1935.
The practice of putting up floral decorations on the church’s front – there have been some very elaborate and beautiful ones put up in the past, goes back to 1959, when Redemptorist Brother Casimir Godebye, came up with the idea, with many in the congregation donating flowers for the effort. The decorations have of late, including this year’s, have become a lot simpler in form compared to the decorations of that I have seen in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s – I did dig up some photographs of the one put up during the procession that was put up in celebration that coincided with the Marian Year in 1987 which does show how beautiful the sight of the decorations – particularly when illuminated at night, could be.
More photographs from 1987
This year’s celebration will also be one of the last that will see it celebrated as has been for the last 60 years in front of the old church – expansion work planned for the church which will see a new church building built next to the old (which has conservation status), is slated to be carried out after next year’s procession. Estimated to cost some S$45 million, the fund raising efforts have so far raised just above half of the amount necessary – work will commence once 70% of the estimated costs have been raised.
More photographs from this year’s procession
A video made for the 60th Anniversary looking back at the history of the Procession