Untying Knots with the Children of Camden

Thursday, July 9, 2015

by Katie Smith ’15

In honor of Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families (WMoF), artist Meg Saligman is creating a grotto dedicated to those in need of a prayer both in the Philadelphia area and around the world. The  Saligman’s artistic team brought this installation to Saint Joseph’s University on Tuesday, July 7, in the Chapel of St. Joseph-Michael J. Smith, S.J. Memorial.

The project, which was conceived by the WMoF's Hunger and Homelessness Committee, is known as “Mary, Undoer of Knots.” It is inspired by Pope Francis’ favorite Marian devotion, depicted in a painting by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidnter around 1700. The painting, which resides in Saint Peter am Periach Church in Germany, shows the Blessed Mother untying a knotted rope, symbolizing her intercession on behalf of humanity’s suffering and struggle.

Philadelphia’s version of this devotion will be an interactive public art installation, located at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. The grotto will draw attention to the stories of those in need, while promoting hope and spiritual fellowship. All are invited to contribute by writing a desired prayer request onto a ribbon, which will then be tied onto the installation. In exchange, each participant unties someone else’s knot and commits to praying for their petition, fostering solidarity among strangers from the Philadelphia region and beyond.

“Pope Francis’ devotion to Our Lady the Undoer of Knots is focused on bringing people together in the midst of struggles,” says Daniel Joyce, S.J. ’88, executive director of Mission Programs. “Saint Joseph's participated in creating Philadelphia’s grotto to promote these kinds of encounters among our faculty and staff, as well as children from Camden.”

The SJU event included 38 children from the Holy Name summer camp, located in Camden, N.J. Since 1996, the camp has partnered with SJU’s Office of Mission to provide a five-week experience of summer fun, learning and adventure children aged 8 to 12. The University has sponsored six camp counselors this summer, made up of current students and alumni.

Saint Joseph’s will hold future “Undoing the Knots” events, involving high school students through the Alliance of Catholic Education (ACE) at SJU program Acing High School summer program and incoming freshmen in the Philadelphia Service Immersion Program (PSIP).

(Visit the gallery to view photo captions.)

“Although we bring this exhibit to homeless shelters, A. A. meetings and other events for adults,” says Sofia Seidel, an assistant at Meg Saligman Studios, “I think bringing it to children was a great idea. Often, their voices and struggles aren't heard.”

The event ended with a chorus of the camp’s motto: “Happy, healthy, holy, free – this is what I want to be!”

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