Catholics devastated by the clergy sexual-abuse scandal are doing the one thing they know to do in times of sorrow and distress: they’re taking their concerns to prayer.

Maureen Flynn, chairman of the coalition coordinating this year’s International Week of Prayer and Fasting, said Catholics are responding in unprecedented numbers to the 26th annual prayer campaign by organizing Masses, Eucharistic adoration, Rosaries and Divine Mercy chaplets in their parishes and signing the event’s prayer and fasting pledge form online.

“We’re getting a huge response from many parishes and prayer groups in the region and across the U.S. because of what’s happening in the Church,” said Flynn, who is based in Herndon, Virginia. “People are very concerned and disturbed about the crisis in the Church. The most important thing we can do is to get people to pray and do penance. Our Lady said there would be a great apostasy in the Church, but we know the Rosary defeats evil.”

Flynn said her office is hearing from thousands of people via phone, mail and internet who want to get involved in this year’s campaign. Some are homeschooling parents who have committed to praying the Rosary with their children. Others are taking the prayer campaign into Catholic schools. In the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, for example, about 15 portable Our Lady of Guadalupe shrines are being set up in schools to encourage students to pray the Rosary and make sacrifices during the campaign.

This year’s prayer campaign, scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 7, is focusing on imploring God for the holiness of the Church, peace and the conversion of all peoples and nations, building a Culture of Life and defending the sanctity of marriage and family life. On Oct. 7, the final day, the campaign will partner with Rosary Coast to Coast, which is encouraging Rosaries to be said that day at 4 p.m. Eastern time, 3 p.m. Central, 2 p.m. Mountain and 1 p.m. Pacific. One of those Rosaries will be prayed on Capitol Hill.

The grass-roots International Week of Prayer and Fasting grew out of Flynn’s desire to do more to bolster the pro-life movement. She had in mind a single day of prayer, but a friend told her seven days and nights were needed. Organized in 1990 as a national week of prayer and fasting that opened with 500 people, including seven members of Congress, praying in front of the U.S. Capitol, the campaign eventually became international. The first day’s events now take place at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and include a procession, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, confession, prayers and Mass.

What Flynn calls the “global recitation of the Rosary” takes place throughout the day and is led in the morning by the Asian community, before the noon Mass by the Spanish community, after Mass by the African community, and later in the day by youth. The Divine Mercy Chaplet also is recited in the afternoon. Admission to all events at the Basilica is free.

Among this year’s speakers for the Sept. 29 kickoff will be Father Robert Altier, associate pastor of the Church of St. Raphael in Crystal, Minnesota, and known for his EWTN catechetical series, Beauty, Truth and Goodness; Father Francis Peffley, associate pastor of St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Fairfax, Virginia; Colleen Willard, miraculous survivor of an inoperable brain tumor, and Ted Flynn, co-author with his wife, Maureen, of The Thunder of Justice: The Warning, the Miracle, the Chastisement, the Era of Peace.

When signing up online, participants are asked whether they will be attending the first day events and if they will commit to prayer, adoration and fasting for the nine days of the campaign. They also are urged to be specific about their commitments, stating, for instance whether they will pray a decade or more of the Rosary daily, make a holy hour a certain number of times or fast a day or more each week.

Flynn said she thinks the response has been so great this year because Catholics are asking what they can do in the face of the abuse crisis to be part of the solution. Prayer and fasting are something anyone, even children, can do, she said, and both are powerful tools. “St. John Paul II said, ‘Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil,’” Flynn said, quoting the 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae.

Additionally, she said, “Our Blessed Mother has said that, ‘we can do more in one day of intense prayer, than years of discussions.’”