PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ron, a recent college graduate, stands at a small table under a stained-glass portrait of St. Joseph at the back of St. Vincent Basilica, candles flickering around the majestic, century-old church near Latrobe.
A green leather book lies open before him, “Prayer Requests” etched in gold on its cover.
A scrap of paper with a short prayer to St. Jude, the helper of the hopeless and worker of miracles, is pressed between the worn front cover and the first page.
“A job,” Ron scribbles on the page, a simple prayer for a chance to start his life and his career.
The St. Vincent prayer book was first put out for visitors to sign shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Today, it remains a symbol of the vital role that prayer plays in the lives of everyday people -- from Latrobe and Shadyside to New York and Los Angeles -- struggling with health issues and the uncertainties of escalating worldwide unrest and unemployment.
“When I was still working in the parish, I would occasionally peruse the book because it gave me a sense of concerns the parishioners, guests and tourists were facing,” said the Rev. Philip Kanfush, who was posted at the basilica when the prayer book began.
“Concerns around health, loved ones and ones serving in the military came up. I do recall ‘looking for jobs’ or ‘employment’ came up,” said Kanfush, now at St. Vincent College, which is adjacent to the basilica.
Some prayers appear hastily scrawled; others are neatly written, seemingly with the hope of drawing special attention.
Many offer prayers — for which an intention to address is made during each Mass — on behalf of others.
Between scribbled prayers for health is an entry that asks: “Pray for My Son.”
Another asks: “Give Healing to Carolina.”
“Pray for those wounded in Afghanistan” is among the many references to unrest around the world.
Prayers for jobs and help with money problems seem to be common this season.
L.H. asks for help with business.
Lester prays for improvement in finances.
Jack and Jennifer plead for employment.
J.F. hopes for employment for her brother.
Ann wants her husband to find a job.
They’re not alone.
The Rev. Paul Sullins of Catholic University of America in Washington said he noticed a steady increase in the number of people praying for jobs during the past year.
“That reflects the time that we’re in,” he said. “When you’re in distress and need help, you turn to what you see as the source of power and strength to address your problem. To some people, that might be turning to the government. But for people of faith, it means also turning to God.”
About 43 percent of Americans reported attending church services every week or almost weekly in 2010, up from 42 percent in 2009, according to a Gallup Poll survey.
Since 2007, about 8.5 million people have lost jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Eternal Word Television Network, which broadcasts to more than 148 million homes, posted a prayer for employment on its website, sandwiched between “Prayer Before Mass” and “Prayer for Our President and Public Officials.”
The prayer reads: “I wish to use the gifts and talents you have given me, but I need the opportunity to do so with gainful employment.”
Colin Donovan, vice president of theology for the network, said he can’t remember when the network posted the prayer to the website, but it remains to serve a continuing need.
“We understood our viewers have a prayer they may say themselves,” he said, noting a large Catholic viewership in Pittsburgh. “But other people are more comfortable with prayers that maybe come from a saint or have church tradition.”
The prayer gives people a sense of hope, he said.
“An unemployment situation is distressing for families,” he said. “It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by that and to suddenly realize, ‘I need God’s help.’ “
Jobs even edged out relationships as the hot topic during youth group discussions at Shadyside Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Craig Barnes said. Many college students wander into the church, about a mile from the University of Pittsburgh.
“We’re seeing 20-somethings who have recently graduated college and cannot find a job,” the pastor said. “They’re frustrated. They’re angry. They’ll say that to the city, to the pastor and, in prayer, they’ll say it to God as well.”
Prayers and religious traditions can give job applicants a boost of confidence before an interview, said Neal Griebling, a Pittsburgh career coach. He said people haven’t asked him to say prayers for others, but he encourages some clients to pray.
“People are suffering,” he said. “I see people working several part-time jobs just to put food on the table. I think whatever they can do to empower themselves, if that’s through prayer or through a particular religious practice, by all means, I certainly encourage them to do that.”
Robinson resident Victor Ndinyah said he gave up hope of regaining his job at a Steubenville-area steel plant that closed in early 2009. He worked odd jobs to pay bills for nearly a year.
He became so desperate that he added his name to a prayer list at his church, First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. He and other regular churchgoers said special prayers for those on the list, Ndinyah said.
By mid-November, he got the phone call he’d awaited. RG Steel reopened the plant.
Ndinyah was guaranteed employment until January 2010, he said, but still works there as an assistant analyst. He continues to attend church services regularly.
“I know prayers are always answered, and I’m living proof of it,” he said. “Keep the faith. That’s all I can say.”