Pope’s favorite painting inspires parishioners to help untie each other’s spiritual knots

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pope’s first mass in Philly, planned for Saturday, will bring massive crowds to the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

In the courtyard of the church are thousands of handwritten messages of love and hope to honor his arrival.

Parishioners are hoping it leads to a little extra attention from Pope Francis when he gets here. Given the way the project is going, he might not have a choice.

There are a lot of lines in Philadelphia these days. But the one overtaking the sidewalk in front of the church is unique.

This line takes a lot of supplies.

“I understand we bought out every black Sharpie at Staples,” said Laura Burnham, a volunteer.

This line is for Joe Winoski’s prayer.

“You can hope they’re going to be viewed by the big guy and answered,” he said as he waited.

It’s for everyone’s prayers — hundreds of thousands of them, if not more.

“We’re doing upwards of 20,000 strips a day,” said Meg Saligman.

Everyone writes a prayer — an intention — on a strip of mural cloth and ties it to a wooden grotto or wall, swelling with the already massive collection outside the church.

“I only get it when I step back, and I go, ‘Wow!'” said Saligman, the Philly artist who designed the grotto.

It’s inspired by a painting, titled “Mary, Undoer of Knots,” reportedly the Pontiff’s favorite. It’s also on display in the courtyard, and it also inspires the next step.

“When you come to the grotto,” Saligman explained, “you are invited to tie a knot and to untie the knot of someone else.”

A prayer goes in, a prayer comes out.

Outside of the courtyard is a fence — though you can hardly tell with all the ribbons on it. It’s for the ones that a stranger has already prayed for.

“Part of what we all are is wounded in some way, or needy in some way,” said a volunteer tying strips of cloth to the fence.

“You can’t make assumptions by looking at people about what it is they carry,” Burnham said.

It’s hard to know how Pope Francis will respond to the messages. But with bolt after bolt of fabric tied to the church, “I think it’s going to be hard for him to miss when he comes to the Basilica,” said Saligman.

The parishioners are making sure of it.

“Hopefully our prayers get answered,” Winoski said.

The idea comes from the Mercy and Justice Initiative; they’ve been collecting the pieces of cloth for three weeks.

Burnham said they were shutting down around 8 p.m. every night, but people kept coming to share their prayers.

The only reason they leave at all now is because the Secret Service tells them to.

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