The 29th Novena of Hope will be overseen by a priest who cut his teeth at the Graan Monastery.
Speakers at the nine-day event, which begins on Sunday, will discuss issues such as the relationship between divorced people and the Catholic Church and how to instil faith in an “individualistic” generation.
Fr. Charles Cross replaced Fr. Brian D’Arcy as Rector of the Graan six months ago.

READ: As he prepares for his last Novena, Fr Brian D’Arcy says he would 'rather stay' in Fermanagh

The Novena will begin this Sunday at 6.30pm mass and will continue until Monday, March 12. Full details on

This is the County Down man’s third stint at the Graan, having spent 12 years in Enniskillen in the eighties and two years ministering alongside Fr. Gary Donegan in the mid-nineties.
He told The Impartial Reporter that he has chosen ‘family’ as the theme of the 2018 Novena because Pope Francis has picked Dublin as the host city of the 2018 World Meeting of Families in August.
When drawing up a list of speakers, Fr. Charles took note of recent guidance from the Vatican that the church should show more understanding of “modern realities.” Therefore, on Monday, March 5, Patricia Coyle, who is divorced, will speak about “the tough time she went through.” Fr. Charles explained: “If you’ve had a fractured relationship and feel shame or upset, to know that you’re still loved, still welcomed and you are still part of the church community and you’re not something of a pariah, or a leper.”
Asked if the Church will also show understanding to gay members of the community, Fr. Charles said: “This is an issue and a fact we need to deal with. How do we make people feel welcome in an understanding way without throwing a book at them? Of course they are accepted and loved and welcome at the Novena. The very word of Jesus is for people who were on the margins, who were scorned. Mothers come here and say: ‘My son has said he’s gay and the father has lost the head at him’ – what do you say?”
Young people are an audience that Fr. Charles is keen to attract to this year’s Novena. “How do we hand on the flame of faith to a generation which finds this whole thing a bit of a nonsense?” he pondered, adding: “Young people will not read the scriptures anymore, but … it’s our own way of living and our own way of being that will influence the younger generation.”
On Friday, March 9, the Novena will hear from Permanent Roman Catholic lay deacon John Taafe; a father and grandfather, who has spent many years working with youth, addiction and trauma.
“He’s not going to be like me, talking about family life out of a book – he is a grandfather, he has experience of family life,” said Fr. Charles.
Headmaster and GAA commentator Jarlath Burns will speak on the final day of the Novena, Monday, March 12. The father-of-five also oversees 1,500 pupils at St. Paul’s High School, Bessbrook. He will discuss: “How do we live our faith and how do we pass it on to our families?”
Fr. Charles will continue the cross-community link between the Graan and Rossorry Parish Church which was fostered by Fr. Brian. On Wednesday, March 7, Reverend Canon Ian Ellis will attend the Novena along with Dean Kenneth Hall. Those services will be addressed by Church of Ireland Bishop Trevor Williams, who will focus on reconciliation.
Other speakers will include: Fr. Paul Farren, founder of the Derry Youth Community, who will speak on Tuesday, March 6; Ann Loughman, who provides pre-marriage courses, who will speak on Thursday, March 8; and former biochemist Anthony Connelly, who has just completed his studies for the priesthood, who will preach at some of the weekend masses on Saturday, March 10 and Sunday, March 11.
Fr. Charles continued: “We are living in a time of profound change, not just in the church, but in society. I’m not just talking about Brexit. We’ve become individualistic; a me, me generation. How do we create a community where we can see each other as brothers and sisters and where we can respect each other’s dignity and freedom to be who they are? We hear people in this very room talking about their woes and troubles. And God is in the reality and the mess of our lives.”
He admits he is “on a learning curve” and is getting to know the Fermanagh community after being away for 20 years.
The popular service for the sick – which will take place at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday – will no longer serve tea, a decision which Fr. Charles admits has “caused quite a stir!”
He said the Novena team voted in favour of ending the tradition because of the health and safety concerns caused by people walking through crowds with large pots of tea; the logistics of organising the beverages, which he likened to “the moving of the western front”; and the fact that the Graan was “up to its neck in biscuits and buns” after the event because many of the congregation are off sweet treats for Lent.
The 67-year-old recognises that “Fr. Brian has left such a big footprint here” but he intends to make his own mark, saying: “Every priest has a different gift. We all have our own way of reaching people – that’s the way life is.”