Pope Francis saw many landmarks during his Philadelphia visit, but one sight he did not miss was the spiritual art exhibit, “The Knotted Grotto.” Located at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the igloo-shaped grotto was covered in knotted ribbons where people of all faiths shared their concerns, hopes and prayers. The inspiration of the exhibit was Pope Francis’ devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots.
“We all have our knots and struggles,” said Sister Mary Scullion, a Sister of Mercy. “By sharing those, we all become closer as one human community. We asked people to share their intentions and ask Mary to loosen the knots in their life, whether that is hunger, homelessness, or family struggles and join our prayers together.” Sister Mary, the founder and executive director of Project HOME, spearheaded the special project.
When Sister Mary launched Project HOME in 1989, she had no idea what the impact would be 25 years later. Since then, the project has helped more than 8,000 people break the cycle of homelessness and poverty by providing a continuum of care that includes street outreach, supportive housing and comprehensive services that focus on health care, education and employment through both adult and youth education and enrichment programs, and community-based health care services.
Because of Project HOME’s success, Sister was approached by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput to play an important a role in the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) – an international Catholic festival held every three years and the reason for the pope’s historic visit to the United States. She was asked to chair the WMOF Hunger and Homelessness Committee to raise awareness of those issues in light of the Pope’s visit, and create ways for people to respond.
The committee launched the Mercy and Justice Campaign last June that included a special, short-term Francis Fund, which raised over $1.4 million for 50+ organizations serving the most vulnerable people in the region. A related Campaign for Justice generated over twenty thousand messages to Congress, calling for bipartisan support for legislation to meet the needs of poor and struggling Americans.
The third part of the campaign was the Undoer of Knots project. World-renowned artist Meg Saligman was commissioned to develop the exhibit. Starting last spring, Meg and many volunteers visited prisons, shelters, food pantries, religious communities, and schools to gather intentions for the Grotto. Many others submitted their knots/struggles online or in person when the installation opened and for weeks after the Pope’s visit.
On September 27, Pope Francis flew home to Vatican City and the WMOF ended, but Project HOME’s efforts have not. The mission continues to empower adults, children, and families to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty and to help individuals who have experienced poverty to reach their fullest potential as members of the broader society.
Sister Mary says, “The legacy of Pope Francis’s time in Philadelphia must be our renewed commitment to working to end homelessness and poverty in our city. The seed has been planted – let us now be the agents of real transformation.”