By Kate Blain | Catholic News Service
ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) — Every Lent, Catholic parishes across the country offer talks, prayer services and retreats as the Catholic Church prepares for Easter. And parishes in the Diocese of Albany are no exception.
But in Schenectady, St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish took an unusual tack for one Lenten week by offering a March 12-16 series of prayer experiences on topics such as the dignity of work and finding healing after abuse.
The week culminated in the parish’s annual 24-hour marathon of offering the sacrament of reconciliation.
“Hopefully, this serves as a Lenten retreat,” Father Robert Longobucco, pastor, said ahead of the specially focused week. “We really wanted to touch on what people are struggling with.”
A session on the Christian teaching about the dignity of work kicked off the week of prayer.
In a city that’s home to the General Electric Co. and other employers that have instituted layoffs, “a lot of people are concerned about jobs,” Father Longobucco explained in an interview with The Evangelist, Albany’s diocesan newspaper. “The anxiety is palpable. Everybody in our town knows somebody who’s worried about losing their job.”
Unemployed people deal with much more than a loss of income, he said: They lose security and a sense of identity and their place in the world.
“There’s also a spiritual deficit: Pope Francis said we all have a vocation to work, so when your vocation to work is taken away, you (aren’t) fulfilling the part of life that says, ‘I need to work.'”
Speaking about the dignity of work to people who may be unemployed is a delicate task, Father Longobucco said. But, if a person is grieving, rather than offering platitudes and reassurances, “you say, ‘We’re present to your grieving.'”
That response also can help people struggling with the effects of abuse, he said.
The second evening of the prayer week was a “night of healing” for those who have suffered abuse and harassment.
The “#MeToo” movement that has encouraged women across the country and even worldwide to publicly share personal experiences of harassment and abuse sparked the evening’s topic. After popular Catholic storyteller Marni Gillard offered a story relating to a common experience, attendees had time to offer prayers in writing.
In a news release announcing the prayer week, Kristine Rooney, adult faith formation and pastoral care leader at St. Kateri, called the session “an opportunity to take time to pray with other women and write down your hurts anonymously so they can be named and heard by the God who stands with us.”
Including God in one’s healing after abuse is important, said Father Longobucco.
Abuse “is something Jesus abhors,” he stated. “If it hurts women, it hurts God. We’re making that statement and noting that Christ always cares and the church cares, as well.”
The third evening featured Taize prayer and the fourth evening focused on discipleship, followed by a simple meal.
The final day opened with a morning Mass, followed by the 24-hour “confession marathon.”
This is the third year Father Longobucco has offered the marathon reconciliation session, but it was the first time it came as the culmination of a week of prayer.
“People obviously have sins, but we also have stories that need healing,” he said. “We sin in the midst of a story, in the midst of our situation, in the midst of our loss.”
Even the fact that he makes himself available to hear confessions for 24 hours straight tells people that there is time for him to listen to the stories of what led them to sin, the priest said, adding that he hoped giving people a chance “to express their fears and anxieties during the week” would lead “to a place of healing.”
Blain is editor of The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany.