Artists are finishing construction of an unusual exhibit they hope resonates with Pope Francis during his trip to Philadelphia and with anyone experiencing trouble in their daily life.

When it opens Sept. 3, the grotto outside the city's Roman Catholic cathedral will house more than 30,000 knots, each representing a personal hardship or societal challenge.

"It's deeply moving to see the universal quality of these struggles," said lead artist Meg Saligman.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis, seen at the Vatican earlier this month, will visit Philadelphia in September. (Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press)

Organizers are crossing their fingers that Francis, who celebrates Mass at the basilica on Sept. 26, will visit the installation because it's inspired by one of his favourite paintings, Mary, Undoer of Knots. The artwork shows her untangling a long ribbon — a symbol for smoothing life's difficulties.

International submissions

Knots for the project have been gathered worldwide. At a recent public event outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passers-by wrote their burdens on strips of cloth and then tied the fabric in a knot. Challenges ranged from addictions to student loans to health problems.

Participants were then invited to undo someone else's knot — to symbolically share that person's hardship — and weave it through a loom for all to see.

"I thought it was nice to be aware of someone else's pains, someone else's struggles, and that you're not alone," said Abigail Quintos of Rochester, N.Y.

"A lot of other people are going through tough times in their lives."

Quintos' own knot addressed the strain of living so far away from her family; the one she untied dealt with an individual's housing and child custody hardships.

Lisa Cerasaro's knot concerned what she described as the scourge of corporate greed in America. When she randomly reached for another person's knot, it turned out to be in Spanish — which she doesn't understand.

"But I'm just weaving it in, wishing good thoughts for that person," said Cerasaro, of Middletown, N.J.

Francis is scheduled to visit Philadelphia on Sept. 26 and 27 to close out the World Meeting of Families, a triennial Catholic conference focused on strengthening family bonds.

Argentina Pope Tour

The Philadelphia exhibit is based on one of the Pope's favourite paintings: La Virgen Desatanudos (Mary, undoer of knots) at the San Jose del Talar parish, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)