Presbyterian Rev Steve Stockman ‘privileged’ to teach views on Mary at Catholic Novena at Clonard Monastery in west Belfast

A Presbyterian minister says it is an “incredible privilege” to have been asked to teach Protestant theology on Mary at a major Catholic festival in west Belfast.

Rev Steve Stockman from Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast had been asked to speak on the opening and closing day of the nine-day festival at Clonard Monastery, which ended today. His church has worked closely with Clonard for over 20 years.

The Novena – from the Latin for nine – is a mainly Catholic tradition of devotional praying for nine successive days or weeks.

The venue for the annual event is Clonard Monastery just off the Falls Road, with the event running from Wednesday last week until today.

Rev Steve Stockman taught about Mary from a Protestant perspective at the west Belfast Novena

“Interestingly the Novena in Clonard is very much based on Mary which I find very tricky because I have a very different view of Mary,” Rev Stockman said.

He spoke on the opening day and was also “wonderfully” asked to speak on the last day – about Mary.

“I think Novenas have a tendency to concentrate on Mary in their liturgy which obviously I as a Protestant find a little bit difficult – I change her name to Jesus when I am following the prayers.”

Rev Stockman said prayers would be offered at the Novena “for Mary our mother of perpetual help”.

Depending on the Catholic, some would pray to her and some would pray for her, he added.

“As a Protestant I don’t pray to Mary, however I think Protestants have missed the discipleship of Mary. So I will be preaching about Mary from a Protestant perspective and bringing out from the scriptures her courage, commitment and sacrifice and how we need to follow her following of Jesus.

“They know I have a different view to them and they have asked me to speak about it so that is intriguing, I think. I don’t think it is in the Bible that we pray to Mary,” he added.

Rev Stockman said the monastery interior – which he likened to a cathedral – is “crammed” throughout the Novena, from 7am to 8pm.

“There is no room. There are a couple of hundred people sitting out in the garden and 50-100 outside the back door. Before lockdown the old Novenas would have attracted 100,000 for the nine days.”

Although he faces some stiff criticism for crossing the barriers – he met Pope Francis in April – he is unapologetic.

“If somebody asks me to preach and teach the scriptures I will do that anywhere and it is an incredible privilege to do it at the Novena.

“We know our differences – we don’t hide them. But we have so much in common that we feel we can help each other.”