DAYNNA IMAM loosened a ribbon of paper that was tightly knotted around a piece of rope. A message was scrawled on the paper, which she read out loud.
"Even though returning to him was breaking me, I always went back to the abuse," the note read. " . . . Leaving him is difficult now, but I will be much better in time."
Imam, 32, looked up, smiling, but surprised by the coincidence. She had overcome the same situation.
"It's strange that I just happened to take one where the person has the same struggle as me," Imam, a technology consultant, said. "I guess I feel relieved."
Imam was among dozens of people outside Dilworth Park yesterday who selected anonymous notes woven together, all with a common thread - struggles endured by everyday people.
Passersby were encouraged to tie a written statement to a rope, untie someone else's from that rope and then weave it through a loom-like structure. The exercise at the Center City park was part of a public installation titled "Untying the Knots" by renowned mural artist Meg Saligman. It will be displayed on the lawn next to the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul starting Sept. 3.
The installation was commissioned by the World Meeting of Families Hunger and Homelessness Committee and Project Home, a nonprofit that supports the homeless.
"Untying the Knots" is inspired by a 17th century painting titled "Mary, Undoer of Knots" - a piece beloved by Pope Francis. Saligman said the pope will visit the installation when he comes to Philadelphia for the 2015 World Meeting of Families, Sept. 22 to 25.
She said she hopes the installation will give the homeless a chance to participate in the pope's visit, even if they can't make it to the Parkway. She also expects it to be a therapeutic exercise, as people share the struggles they may have otherwise kept hidden.
"It can be overwhelming - some people walk up to it and cry," Saligman said. "I think people are surprisingly open to experience that."
Some of the notes sought relief from internal suffering - "Help with my temper and drug addiction," one read. Others reached out to loved ones - "Godson in foster care. Trying to overcome difficulties in the system."
Outside the cathedral, the struggles will be woven together into an igloo-shaped grotto, symbolizing unity, healing and prayer. At night, video of hands untying the slips of paper will be projected onto the dome of the cathedral.
Submissions are also being collected online through mercyandjustice.org, a poverty awareness campaign created in light of the pope's visit. The website has received submissions from all over the world and thousands of strips of paper from people in the United States, Saligman said.
And even when the grotto is built, Saligman said she has no plans to stop collecting the ribbons of paper.