Artists are finishing construction of an unusual exhibit they hope resonates with Pope Francis during his trip to Philadelphia and with anyone experiencing trouble in their daily life.
When it opens Sept. 3, the grotto outside the city's Roman Catholic cathedral will house more than 30,000 knots, each representing a personal hardship or societal challenge.
"It's deeply moving to see the universal quality of these struggles," said lead artist Meg Saligman.
Organizers are crossing their fingers that Francis, who celebrates Mass at the basilica on Sept. 26, will visit the installation because it's inspired by one of his favorite paintings, "Mary, Undoer of Knots." The artwork shows Mary untangling a long ribbon — a symbol for smoothing life's difficulties.
The painting hangs in a church in Augsburg, Germany, where then-Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio saw it while studying in the mid-1980s. Deeply touched, the future pope brought copies back to Argentina, where a huge devotion grew and spread to neighboring Brazil and beyond. Its title can also be translated as "Mary, Untier of Knots."
"Even the most tangled knots are loosened by (God's) grace," Francis said during a 2013 prayer in St. Peter's Square, referring repeatedly to the "knots" encountered in everyday life.
Knots for the project here have been gathered worldwide. At a recent public event outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passers-by wrote their burdens on strips of cloth and then tied the fabric in a knot. Challenges ranged from addictions to student loans to health problems.
Participants were then invited to undo someone else's knot — to symbolically share that person's hardship — and weave it through a loom for all to see.
"I thought it was nice to be aware of someone else's pains, someone else's struggles, and that you're not alone," said Abigail Quintos of Rochester, New York. "A lot of other people are going through tough times in their lives."
Quintos' own knot addressed the strain of living so far away from her family; the one she untied dealt with an individual's housing and child custody hardships.
Lisa Cerasaro's knot concerned what she described as the scourge of corporate greed in America. When she randomly reached for another person's knot, it turned out to be in Spanish — which she doesn't understand.
"But I'm just weaving it in, wishing good thoughts for that person," said Cerasaro, of Middletown, New Jersey.
The installation is being financed by the nonprofit homeless advocacy group Project Home.
Francis is scheduled to visit Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27 to close out the World Meeting of Families, a triennial Catholic conference focused on strengthening family bonds.
In another sign of the painting's importance to him, the future pope distributed prayer cards to well-wishers featuring the image when he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in 1992. As pontiff, Francis had the image carved into a chalice that he presented to Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, whose former archdiocese houses the original artwork.