Papal Fever: Prayer Grotto and Pope Plushies in Phila…. Security Barriers and Metro Madness in DC

Papal Fever: Prayer Grotto and Pope Plushies in Phila…. Security Barriers and Metro Madness in DC September 21, 2015

So this country is kind of losing what remains of its mind over the Pope, yes? You guys know that the pope makes me feel minty, and this mintiness is not decreased by proximity. I will be sheltering in place for the duration of his visit.

That said, I was in Philadelphia recently and they have done one fantastic thing. The city is pope-mad, the train station is just covered in giant scary Francis faces that turn out to be ads for Jesuit colleges, and you can buy stuffed Pope Francises in the visitors’ center, so… that happened. BUT ALSO the cathedral is hosting a beautiful and moving devotional artwork, the Knotted Grotto.

This is a devotion to Our Lady Untier of Knots, our Blessed Mother who intercedes for us in all the most tangled places of our lives:

Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder of the homeless advocacy group, Project HOME, says Philadelphians jotted down their thoughts on ribbons of fabric.

“These 30,000 plus knots came out of soup kitchens, homeless shelters, recovery residences and prisons.”

Now woven into curved slats, they form an outer skin that shapes the grotto. Sister Mary says they represent what Pope Francis called “the cry of the poor in our time.”


Visitors are encouraged to take a white ribbon and write a prayer on it. Then volunteers weave the prayers into a domed grotto, lace them through fence slats, or let them float from the grotto’s roof. So you can read the prayers others have left, and pray for their intentions as well. (And you can add a prayer from home.)

These are such moving pleas. For gainful employment… for peace in my family… that my children would return to the faith and find hope. We saw prayers in Spanish and Russian, as well as one language I couldn’t recognize. The ribbons flutter and shelter you, and the sunlight filters through them.

Meanwhile DC… I don’t know what we’re doing for the Pope other than completely freaking out. I tried to go to afternoon Mass at the Basilica yesterday but it was canceled. Which I don’t blame them for–I know they’re hosting a massive global event–but I will say we don’t seem to have anything as lovely as the Knotted Grotto. (Am I missing something? I admit I didn’t go through the whole Basilica.) Just tons of steel security barriers. Welcome to Washington.

Also if you’re visiting us, be aware: We may be the capital of the greatest empire in the world, but our subway/bus system is more of a spiritual discipline than a public amenity. (It’s especially Catholic insofar as it’s constantly catching fire.)

Anyway, here’s a letter to Pope Francis concerning the Philadelphia jail, which he’ll be visiting. And here’s John L. Allen, Jr speculating on how Francis can change the conversation around religious freedom in the US.

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