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Novena focuses on power of prayer

Sat., March 1, 2008

For the last 81 years, people of faith from throughout Eastern Washington and beyond have gathered at St. Aloysius Catholic Church for nine consecutive days of reflection and prayer.

The annual Novena of Grace – which starts Thursday and draws at least 1,500 people every day – is a time for hope and healing, according to organizers. It’s also one of the region’s oldest and largest novenas.

While some petition for world peace or an end to global hunger, most people ask for God’s grace as they struggle with fractured relationships, an illness, a broken heart and other problems in their lives.

“This is about the power of prayer, especially prayer within community,” said Kathy Yates, the novena coordinator at St. Al’s. “People end up feeling uplifted or less burdened. … Sometimes, prayers get answered, but not quite in the way people request it.”

Although the novena is a Catholic tradition, the services at St. Al’s are open to people of all faiths and denominations, she said.

This year’s Novena of Grace will be led by the Rev. Denis Donoghue, a Jesuit priest, and Kent Hoffman, a Spokane psychotherapist and educator.

Each day, St. Al’s will have three services focusing on the theme, “Jesus, Long Have I Waited For You.” During this time, people will have the opportunity to write their intentions down on pieces of paper that will be collected in a petition box. Together, they will pray for these intentions, sometimes using the same devotionals that have been uttered every year for the past eight decades.

Donoghue and Hoffman also will lead participants in reflections using tools they’ve acquired from their studies and experiences.

Donoghue, who served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in 1991, has ministered to the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes in western Washington. In 2004, he traveled to Nepal, where he worked with Buddhists and the Sisters of Charity.

Hoffman is perhaps best known as one of the founders of the Circle of Security Project, an early intervention program that supports healthy parenting for high-risk infants and young children. For the past 12 years, his many contributions to the Spokane community include working with homeless parents at Spokane’s Crosswalk and leading workshops for parents, educators, social workers and clergy.

The two men will focus on “revealing the ever present ‘Abba of God’ and how it is offered to everyone – regardless of each individual’s current struggles and challenges,” according to Hoffman. “Abba,” which means “daddy” in Aramaic, is the “most affectionate and tender name we have for God,” he explained.

“The reciprocal relationship of trust between parent and child is no different than how Jesus experienced his relationship with God and how he invites us to have the same relationship with God,” said Hoffman.

The novena at St. Al’s is in honor of St. Francis Xavier, known for his missionary work and his friendship with St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. This form of devotion traces its beginnings to Goa, India, when a boy who was crippled from birth was said to be cured by praying to St. Francis in 1615.

“It is a fervent, traditional style of worship,” said Yates, who has been on staff at St. Al’s for the last 16 years. “It’s a Catholic tradition, but many non-Catholics come because it transcends denomination. … It’s a powerful experience that helps people feel faith-filled and hopeful.”

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