As parishes across the Albany Diocese offer Lenten talks, prayer services and retreats, St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady is taking an unusual tack: From March 12-16, the parish will offer a week-long series of prayer experiences on topics like the dignity of work and finding healing after abuse.

The week will culminate in the parish's annual 24-hour marathon of offering the sacrament of reconciliation.

"Hopefully, this serves as a Lenten retreat," noted Rev. Robert Longobucco, pastor. "We really wanted to touch on what people are struggling with."

Job woes
A session on the Christian teaching about the dignity of work will kick off the week of prayer. Former associate pastor Rev. Patrick Rice, now pastor of All Saints on the Hudson parish in Mechanicville/Stillwater, will return to St. Kateri to preach that evening.

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. "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.'"

Abuse aftermath
That response can also help people struggling with the effects of abuse, he said. The second evening of the prayer week will be a "night of healing" for those who have suffered abuse and harassment.

The "#me too" 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. Popular Catholic storyteller Marni Gillard will offer a story relating to a common experience and there will be time to offer prayers in writing.

In a press release about 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."

Rest of week
The third evening of the prayer week will feature Taize prayer, led by music minister Kimberly Conway; the fourth night, titled, "Laughter and Libations with Father Bob," will focus on discipleship and include a simple meal of soup (call 518-346-6137 to attend).

The final day of the prayer week will begin with 9 a.m. Mass, followed by the 24-hour "confession marathon."

This will be the third year Father Longobucco has offered the marathon reconciliation session, but the first time that it serves as the culmination of a week of prayer. The pastor hopes the days leading up to the marathon will spark great interest in receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.

"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'll be 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, he said.

"We're hoping that allowing people to express their fears and anxieties during the week will lead to a place of healing."