Thousands turn up for Novena Church's last procession

Thousands turn up for Novena Church's last procession
Catholic worshippers at the Easter Sunday service at the Catholic Church of St Alphonsus (Novena Church) on 8 April 2012.

More than 15,000 devotees thronged the last large-scale annual outdoor procession in honour of Mother Mary at Novena Church on Sunday.

The Catholic church, which will be closing its doors for a $45 million upgrade, has been holding the procession since 1953.

Called Our Lady's Procession, it involved a thanksgiving mass and procession where church workers carried images of her through the crowd. The church is the only one here to conduct a procession on such a scale.

Many of the devotees, who could not squeeze into the church's Thomson Road premises, watched from across the road.

Devotee George Chow, 66, a warehouse manager who has attended the procession since he was 12, is sad to see the decades-old tradition end.

"I've been attending it, rain or shine, for 54 years. It has become a ritual for me, so I feel a sense of loss," he said.

The church's rector, Simon Tan, said the upgrading will take up some of the compound's open space and make such a procession hard to organise in the future.

"But this does not mean that we won't be able to do it on a smaller scale indoors," said Father Simon, 51.

While they will miss the procession, worshippers said they are looking forward to the new Novena Church as the revamp will help ease congestion in its packed sanctuary.

As many as 20,000 attend the church's daily sessions every week, and many often spill out onto its verandahs and carpark.

The two-year-long upgrading project starting next month will include the construction of a new building that connects to its existing conserved sanctuary.

The new wing, which will come with stained-glass windows, will help increase seating capacity from 700 to 2,000 within the fully air-conditioned space.

Architect Melvin Gamayot of CGN Architects - the firm handling the project - said the new extension does not take away from the old church, adding that it "blends well".

During the closure, the church's services and weekday masses will be held at Church of the Risen Christ in Toa Payoh Central, while Sunday masses will be at St Joseph's Institution Junior's school hall at 3 Essex Road.

Father Simon said the church has raised $39.7 million to date, and will be awarding a tender for the construction project by the end of the month.

"We are appealing for more donations in the light of rising construction costs. Novena Church is not just for believers...we hope that people who have been touched over the course of its history will come forward and give generously."

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