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PHILADELPHIA — For all the hustle and bustle of a big city starting to explode with pilgrims, a hush had fallen over the outside of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
Just to the left of the main entrance, there is a little art installation which has grown in prayers − or little, white strips of cloth tied with prayers written on them.
Throughout the day during the World Meeting of Families, and even a few days before its kickoff, people have wandered into the area to write a personal plea, tie it onto the fence and then untie someone else’s and move it inside a wooden grotto.
From there, the person says a prayer for this stranger and reties the cloth.
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Joanne, a South Philadelphia native, visited the Knotted Grotto to write a prayer for her son.
“I want my son to be free (from his problems) and only God can do that,” she said.
She stopped by Tuesday to say her prayer, because she wouldn’t be around when Pope Francis arrives.
The 20-by-13 foot dome is made of ash and mahogany and represents “Mary, Undoer of Knots,” which is one of Pope Francis’ favorite paintings.
Knots have been used as a symbol of tension and struggle and the untying of a knot shows freedom from these burdens, according to the World Meeting of Families.
Since its completion, the Knotted Grotto has had over 40,000 strips of cloth tied to it, each with a message, prayer or plea from people across the world.
“I was at the basilica and I saw this and was curious what was going on,” said Julie Fitzgerald, who made the trek down from Ontario in Canada. “I think we kind of forget that we’re not just individuals here. We’re all in this life together and I think prayer is powerful and this is what I can do to help somebody else and have your own prayers heard as well.”
Some of the prayers ranged from “Bless the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia” and “Loving myself for who I am” to “I need help paying my student loans” and “Desire to bring son back to the faith.”
Each person who visits the Knotted Grotto can receive a cloth and write his or her own message with a Sharpie before finding a spot to tie it to.
There were some tears and some smiles as people wandered through and took it the stunning view of the grotto.
“I came here because I’m interested in learning more about the family and the Catholic and Christian view on what it is to have a family in the modern world,” Fitzgerald said. “This here in the grotto is incredible.”