NEW YORK — Several hundred runners will have the power of prayer on their side this year when they line up for the New York City Marathon.

WCBS-TV reports Monsignor Robert Ritchie has led a pre-marathon Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral since 2006. Ritchie says he started the Mass after receiving requests from marathon runners to bless their sneakers. The church rector says the runners’ Mass has grown from about 50 people to 500.

“Somebody comes up to me and he says, ‘Father, give me a blessing I’m going to be in the marathon tomorrow.’ ‘Father, bless my shoes.’ About 10 people asked me,” Ritchie said, according to the New York television station. “I thought about it and I said, ‘You know, next year, I think we’ll do something special.’”

The 72-year-old Catholic prelate says he waved off requests to join the marathon because of knee problems. That changed last year after knee replacement surgeries. The monsignor walked the marathon, finishing in 7 hours, 41 seconds.

The priest, who has hosted two popes in his cathedral, said completing the race was his proudest moment.

“All of my friends know that when I die I want to be buried with the medal on me. If they don’t do it I’ll haunt them or something,” the monsignor said.

Ritchie says although the marathon is about preparation, prayers don’t hurt. The 47th Annual New York City Marathon will be held Sunday.

Crux staff contributed to this report.