PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pope Francis made an unannounced stop Sunday to bless an art installation, a grotto adorned with 110,000 knots, each representing a personal hardship or societal challenge.
The work was inspired by one of his favorite paintings, “Mary, Undoer of Knots.” It shows Mary untangling a long ribbon — a symbol of 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.”
Visitors to the grotto, installed outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, were invited to write down their own problems on ribbons. They were also encouraged to help others by loosening and removing a knot already in place.
Before the pope’s visit, the grotto had about 30,000 knots. Eighty-thousand were added by those who came to the city for the World Meeting of Families and to see Francis, said Sister Mary Scullion, founder of Project Home, a homeless advocacy group that financed the project.
She was at the grotto when the pope visited.
“I’m feeling pretty amazing right now. We’re just so humbled,” Scullion said. “To see that Pope Francis came here and said a prayer, a beautiful prayer, and blessed it, will give comfort and consolation to a lot of people.”
Artist Meg Saligman, who created the grotto, and Lori Lasher, who fashioned a stole out of knots, were also there. Scullion presented the stole to Francis.
Scullion said she spoke briefly with the pope in Spanish, which she had been practicing on the chance they would meet. He said to pray for him and spoke of how Mary Undoer of Knots was one of his special devotions, she said.
“This is a moment of a lifetime, certainly for all of us involved with the grotto personally, but I think it is a great time for our church, our city and our country,” Scullion said. “We are really hoping this is a time we can build on to the work Pope Francis asked us, to undo the knots of poverty and hunger around the world.”
During a 2013 prayer in St. Peter’s Square, Francis referred repeatedly to the “knots” encountered in everyday life. “Even the most tangled knots are loosened by (God’s) grace,” he said.
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