The anonymous messages ranged from the universal - "World Peace! World Peace! World Peace!" - to the deeply personal:
"Prayers for my son having a liver transplant."
"I pray that I will be able to fully accept my son's homosexuality."
And: "Grieving the loss of my dear husband of 37 years."
Knotted ribbons of white cloth bearing prayers and statements of personal struggle rippled in the breeze Thursday outside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
More than 30,000 streamers of hope and faith fluttered during the dedication of the "Knotted Grotto" outside the cathedral. A brief interfaith ceremony included prayers and a song written for the occasion.
Missives waved from fence posts. Fishing nets hung outside the basilica, and cedar staves woven together formed the open dome of the Knotted Grotto sculpture.
The grotto, which has a small pool surrounded by grasses and plants, will serve as a place of reflection and prayer this month during the World Meeting of Families. The sculpture honors Pope Francis.
"We wanted to do something as part of the Mercy and Justice campaign," said Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME and cochair of the World Meeting of Families Hunger and Homeless Committee. "We need God's grace to help us loosen our knots, but we also need each other to help us untie the knots."
The temporary art installation commissioned by Project HOME was inspired by one of Francis' favorite religious images and prayers, "Mary, Undoer of Knots," which he encountered in Bavaria when he was a graduate student.
When the Jesuit priest, then known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, returned from Germany to his native Argentina, he brought along the devotion, which asks Mary to untie the knots snarling worshipers' lives.
Scullion said the messages for the installation were collected over several months from soup kitchens, homeless shelters, recovery residences, and prisons, where one plea read:
"I struggle with heroin addiction. Upon release from prison, I pray I will never be homeless and hungry."
The project incorporates comments from people from all walks of life across the region.
Visitors to the grotto are invited to add their own messages and untie others' to lessen their burdens.
Meg Saligman, a Philadelphia-based artist who was selected to create the interactive installation, reflected on the project's symbolism:
"A knot throughout all cultures and time has symbolized struggles. There is the infinity knot of Tibetan Buddhism, the intertwining of wisdom and compassion. There is the Celtic knot that symbolizes the sign of the cross, and the trinity knot, which symbolizes the Holy Trinity."
Saligman said many people worked with her on the project, including Daniel Ostrov and Stephanie Cole, who created the grotto sculpture.
Scullion said she hoped Francis would bless the installation when he visits the city this month.
Rosalie McNeff of Norwood saw the bustle outside the basilica Wednesday as people worked on Knotted Grotto. She decided to return when she read in the newspaper that the dedication was scheduled for Thursday.
For her contribution, McNeff printed a strip that read, "I pray my family members will start practicing their faith again."
McNeff, who belongs to St. Gabriel's parish in Norwood, said she had learned about the Mary, Undoer of Knots prayer two years ago.
"I never thought of her as the undoer of knots, but I say the prayer every single day now," she said. "Everybody is in knots about something. It's a beautiful idea."
Cynthia and Raul Ocasio of Cape Coral, Fla., stumbled upon the dedication during a trip to Center City.
"It's nice," she said. "You can write a prayer, and you can also take someone's and pray for them."