PHILADELPHIA - For weeks, Catholics had been streaming to the
"Knotted Grotto," a dome-shaped lattice-work frame outside
the chapel of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in
Philadelphia, tying white strips of paper offering prayers
for healing of sick friends and relatives, world peace,
protection of the environment, the elimination of poverty and
By the time the grotto closed with an interfaith blessing
Oct. 7, 150,000 strips fluttered in the breeze.
After the solemnity and festivities of the Sept. 22-25 World
Meeting of Families and the two-day visit to Philadelphia by
Pope Francis, the exhibit, if not the hopes of the flock, was
The grotto as designed by artist Meg Saligman invited
passers-by to pray for the intentions on one of the ribbons
tied outside the grotto, unknot it and retie it inside the
grotto, and then leave a new ribbon with one's own intention
to be prayed for by someone else.
Before celebrating an open-air Mass Sept. 27, the pope, known
for his devotion to "Mary, Undoer of Knots," made an
impromptu visit to the display to bless the grotto and the
achievements of the Mercy and Justice Campaign, of which the
grotto was one part.
The concept of Mary, Undoer of Knots is taken from a chapter
in a work by St. Irenaeus of Lyons in which he demonstrates a
parallel between Eve and Mary, writing that the "knot" of
Eve's disobedience was undone by Mary. Pope Francis first
began his devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots during a visit to
Germany after seeing an 18th century painting of the same
title by artist Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner.
Mercy Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project
HOME and co-chair of the World Meeting of Families' Hunger
and Homelessness Committee, was joined at the Oct. 7 blessing
by Donna Crilley Farrell, the world meeting's executive
director, and other program leaders to address the future of
the Mercy and Justice Campaign.
It was created to generate action and awareness about hunger
and homelessness when Pope Francis visited the area. His
ongoing message of mercy and his plea for people to help
those living in poverty motivated the successful four-month
"I am very happy to report that because of the generosity of
countless caring and compassionate people in the greater
Philadelphia area, we reached our goal for the Francis Fund,"
Sister Mary said about the fundraising initiative that
launched in June. "We have collected more than $1.4 million,
through which we will be able to provide financial support to
over 50 remarkable organizations serving some of the most
vulnerable people in our community."
Sister Mary said that although the grotto was being
dismantled, "we will keep working to undo the knots of
poverty and injustice."
Attending the grotto closing were Father Dennis Gill,
cathedral rector; John Bowie, a resident of Project HOME and
volunteer for the Mercy and Justice Campaign; Imam Salaam
Muhsin of Philadelphia Masjidullah; and Rabbi Andrea Merow of
Beth Sholom Congregation in suburban Elkins Park and founder
of the Beth Sholom Mitzvah Food Pantry.
Philadelphia Masjidullah and Beth Sholom Mitzvah Food Pantry
receive Francis Fund financial support.
Pope Francis' presence will remain in Philadelphia in another
way when Project HOME and the Chinatown Development Corp.
dedicate the Francis House of Peace, a nine-story, mixed-use
building near the city center that will provide affordable
housing for formerly homeless men and women and at-risk young
The name honors Pope Francis and his commitment to improve
conditions for those who live in poverty. The 94-unit
building is expected to be completed in November.
"Francis House of Peace is a sign of hope for our entire
community," Sister Mary said. "It demonstrates that we are
finding even more ways to take concrete steps toward truly
preventing and ending homelessness in Philadelphia, and it
shows what is possible when people come together with shared
vision and commitment."
Residents will have access to all Project HOME services
including basic medical care and fitness classes through its
Health Initiative Program and employment training.
One of its features will be familiar to those who have walked
by the cathedral since the summer. The Knotted Grotto will be
relocated to the residence.
The 150,000 prayer ribbons will be removed and see new life
as insulation in another future residence of Project HOME
coming to North Philadelphia in 2016.
Fisher writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news
website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.