Stop two of our Rise of the Roses Summer Tour was in Nazareth. Not the Nazareth that first comes to mind but the one on the Falls Rd Belfast, which is home to the amazing Sisters of Adoration! How can we even begin to put into words how fantastic our visit was?!
Driving up the Falls Rd you couldn’t help but know that something special was happening. There was a great buzz outside the Convent, with beautiful bunting, decorations and of course the Sisters. From the moment we all arrived we were greeted with open arms and big smiles. You could see the joy in everyone's eyes and there was such a beautiful and exciting atmosphere. This magnificent day had truly begun!
We began with tea, a cupcake and of course chit-chat before proceedings got underway. This was a chance to talk with the Sisters informally and get to know the other visitors who joined us on the tour. It was heart-warming to see a wide range of people - young and old, from far and wide- all gathering together in one special place, all interested in the lives of these women.
As we made our way round to the back garden we were greeted by music from Méabh and Hannah. It added such tranquility and beauty to this momentous occasion and they were joined in song by the youngest members of the Rise of the Roses team. This set the scene for Mother Mary Josephine (the Mother General of the whole Order) to welcome us into their home. She was so warm and really did make us feel like part of the family.
We heard testimonies from Sr Máire, and Postulants Elaine Kelly and Martina Purdy. Sr Nuala – a guest- speaker from the Sisters of charity - also addressed the crowd. Each person was so unique and inspiring in their own way. Sr Máire told us about her personal experiences and how she has become the novice she is today. We have heard Sr Máire speak before, but no matter how many times we hear her story it fills us with great joy and hope. She reminded us of the significance of being ‘Hidden with Christ in God’ and told us of her times working with the poor in America in Soup kitchens, before she had a ‘Call within a Call’ to return to Ireland. She explained to us the meaning of the word ‘Consecrated’ - in union with the sacred – and expressed how, as Sisters, they are “taken from the world so they can be for the world ….to remind people that God exists and that God loves them”. Sr Maire beams when she talks of Jesus. “I love being a Sister! I can’t help but tell people that God loves them because I have come to know and believe that God loves me!”
Sr Nuala – a ‘21+ Sister’ (!) then spoke to us. She talked about how her apostolic calling differed from the Adoration sisters’ contemplative life. Although her call was an ‘active’ one, Sr Nuala reinforced the importance of maintaining a relationship with God through prayer. The spirituality of the Daughters of Charity, she said, was “If you are not people of prayer, you won’t be people of action”. Sr Nuala works with homeless in Northern Ireland and concluded her talk with another poignant quote from one of the founders of her Order – St Vincent de Paul - “If God is at the centre of your life, no words will be needed. Your mere presence will touch hearts”.
The ‘babies of the Convent’ (in Religious terms!) - 10 month old Elaine and 8 month old Martina - then took the spotlight. Elaine told us about their foundress Sr Marie-Thérèse and about the ‘Golden stream of life’ that comes from Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist. Elaine also told us about how she, herself, came to the Sisters of Adoration, admitting that becoming a Religious Sister was the very last thing on her mind before she had a profound experience in Eucharistic Adoration. She laughed at how she never imagined herself as part of this ‘choir’ of Nuns singing psalms in the Adoration Chapel!
Martina then began to tell us about the day-to-day life in the Convent. We were amazed to learn that at breakfast time they eat in silence. Martina herself admitted that she thought this was a joke when she first arrived! She explained why they refer to the convent as ‘Nazareth’ – because the life they lead is a simple one, modelled on the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Whether it is making altar bread, cooking, cleaning or ironing the altar cloths, the Sisters make everything a prayer. They pray together, as a community, several times a day, and Martina explained that Mass is the ‘highpoint’ of their day – “when all of Heaven comes to Nazareth”.
All of the Sisters’ testimonies were so different but beautiful. We felt so blessed that they were able to share them with us.
These events were then followed by two more poignant moments. The first was the explanation of the spiral which was added on to our cross. One line in the reflection, lead by Michaela, that jumped out was that the spiral was similar to 'God's fingerprint' - His mark - showing that he travels with us on all our journeys. Michaela explained the ‘Golden Ration’ and how it is found throughout nature. It was appropriate that in a busy city we could find such beauty ‘in the back garden of a Convent’. It was simply beautiful.
We then continued to the front garden in a prayerful silence, where Maria-Rose and Sr Kathleen symbolically planted our second rose. We finished with a reflection and hymn by Méabh and Kerri-Anne. During the song ‘Rise Rise Roses’ we truly saw the power of song. As we were at the front of the Convent we witnessed the music draw more people into the Convent to see what was happening!
The Sisters then so kindly put on a magnificent spread of food and drink for all. During our hour for lunch we were given the opportunity to see St Joseph’s house of bread (where the Sisters make the altar breads) – we’d never seen so much offertory bread in one place!
We also were privileged to see the relics of Sr Marie-Thérèse – the Foundress of the Order. It was a fantastic experience to see these relics in person and it captivated us.
At 1pm we gathered together for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This was a lovely period of reflection and allowed us to really connect with God as we were in his presence. We remembered the story of the blind man that Sr Maire told us – this man could not see the Host but could feel that the person of Jesus was in front of him. We truly felt Jesus’ presence at this time. We joined with the Sisters as they sang the psalms and we prayed the rosary together. This completed our day at the Convent and it was so fitting to be in the chapel to finish - for that was Sr Marie Therese’s inspiration from God – that souls would be before Him always in Adoration.
We can’t forget to mention the glorious weather! The Holy Spirit definitely was present as the sun shone down us and there was not a rain drop in sight! Sr Maire’s prayers to Saint John Paul II didn’t go unanswered!
As we reflect on our day with the Sisters, we want to thank the Sisters for their generosity, kindness, love and joy. It's hard to find words that do this experience justice, but it is one that we will hold deep in our hearts!