Monday,18 February, 2002, 11:46 GMT
Healing nun wows Dublin
Spiritual uplift: Audiences believe in miracles
By Louise Williams in Dublin
Sister Briege McKenna cuts a low-key figure in her brown habit, with her short hair tucked neatly into her wimple and a plain crucifix around her neck, but her effect on audiences is dramatic.
Many of the 4,500 people at the conference of Divine Mercy in Dublin this weekend cried as they listened to her.
Others stretched out their hands to the Eucharist as it was paraded around the hall.
"Jesus as you walk among us, heal us of our fears, Jesus touch our lips," she told the crowd, her image projected from video screens on either side of the stage.
Sister Briege is a world-renowned "healing nun", who was born in Ireland but spends most of her time travelling around the world giving healing services and allegedly performing miracles.
Videos, and her book "Miracles do Happen" sell by the thousands at occasions where she appears.
Her special powers emerged when she was 18 and suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
"I was in casts for almost three years. And one day in Florida I was miraculously cured. And now I pray that Jesus' healing power will be passed from me to the people here," she explained, brushing herself off after a tussle caused by people trying to touch her clothes.
She insists that she doesn't encourage this sort of adulation.
"Sure that'd be pop star stuff," she said over a cup of tea backstage.
"I'm just an instrument for Jesus. People always ask me to sign autographs, I say no, I just happen to work for the most famous person in the world, the Lord."
The crowd at the conference was made up mostly of women, some of whom have travelled far to see Sister Briege.
"We're here for a spiritual uplift," said Rosemary from Lisburn in Northern Ireland who travelled down with 3 friends.
"Im expecting the Lord to speak today," said Sister Colette, who is based at a convent in Cork.
"Sister Briege has experienced the power of healing in her own life and she knows that He wants to do the same for other people too."
Teresa from Dublin came to give thanks for her own personal miracle.
"I had a node in my neck," she explained. "And one day when I went to get the sacrament at Mass, I felt a light touch on my neck, just like a feather touching me three times.
"When I checked the lump was gone, and my GP couldn't believe it."
Belief of this kind-with a big emphasis on healing and the performing of miracles is still common in Ireland.
"Celtic culture recognises little or no difference between the sacred and the secular," explains Father Pat Collins, a Catholic priest who has studied popular devotion in Ireland.
"And there is a sense of connection at a gathering like this which satisfies Irish people's hunger for the supernatural. Briege is very gifted, very charismatic, she believes in the supernatural and that appeals here."
Not only does Briege believe in the supernatural power of healing, she is firm that hell and evil exist too.
"Sure I wouldn't give Satan the time of day," she said on Irish radio this week.
But despite her unorthodox beliefs, Father Pat Collins points out that many people benefit from going to see her.
"I wouldn't go myself, but I think it is good for people. Through her, they have the opportunity to re-affirm their Christian faith."