It was a beatiful Easter Sunday dawn as the sun rose over the River Lagan. The early morning mist was rising from the river and started disappearing as people made their way along the path towards the spot where they would mark this special day with the celebration of Mass. The priest was a Jesuit, Fr Bruno Niederbacher from South Tyrol, who has been based in Belfast for the past three months, helping out as a curate at St Brigid’s Catholic parish (new page). Shortly after 7am the Mass began. By that stage around 150 people had gathered around a large tree where a temporary altar had been set up. At one point during his homily Fr Bruno stopped talking. He urged the participants to listen to the sounds of nature around them and the birds duly obliged! Then to breathe in the fresh air for further inspiration.
The choir led the singing and contributed greatly to the occasion. The dawn Mass or a religious service is a tradition in many Christian churches. St Brigid’s parishioners have been participating in a Mass at this spot for several years. It may have been the idea of a former curate who had a love of nature or it may well have been an even older tradition. But this was the first time I have managed to attend. A friend who has been a regular attender with her family recalled how the weather was on occasions not so mild, when it was held in the snow! She also remembers the Mass being interrupted on one occasion by a group of rowdy youths returning from a party. Fr Bruno ended the Mass with an Irish blessing. Afterward, small Easter eggs were handed out for the children (although that did not stop some adults taking them!) to enjoy. On Easter Monday, Fr Bruno returned to Dublin where he has been based for the past year as part of his Jesuit “tertianship” or training after ordination. He made a valuable contribution to the spiritual life of St Brigid’s especially at Sunday Mass and with youth groups during the short time he spent in the parish. Fr Bruno was born in 1967 in Uttenheim, Suedtirol in the Dolomite region of Italy. After his novitiate he studied philosophy in Muenchen and then Freiburg-in-Breisgau (where I once attended a summer course). He also studied theology in London. He worked in a youth centre in Innsbruck and since 1999 has worked at the Institute for Christian Philosophy at the University of Innsbruck, to which he now returns. Farewell Fr Bruno and thanks. Go n-éiri an bothar leat.