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It's art made just for the pope's visit to Philly. But for the artists and the city, it's much more.

How a work of art is encouraging an entire community to discover what unites them.

Pope Francis is making his first trip to the U.S. this month, with stops in Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia.

Pope Francis has a packed schedule for his Sept. 22-27 visit. In addition to leading four Masses, the pontiff will stop at the White House, tour the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, visit a Pennsylvania prison, attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and undoubtedly take part in thousands of selfies.


Selfies! Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images.

Millions are expected to greet him, so some of Philadelphia's best artists have been working nonstop for his arrival.

Meg Saligman, Dan Ostrov, and Stephanie Cole have been working overtime on their piece, "Knot Grotto," a 20-by-13-foot wooden sculpture built exclusively for Pope Francis' visit to the City of Brotherly Love.

"Knot Grotto" is staged outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Photo by Stephanie Cole and Dan Ostrov.

Saligman was commissioned by Sister Mary Scullion and the Mercy and Justice Initiative, an arm of Project HOME, one of the most successful outreach programs for people experiencing homelessness. As a woman of faith and Philadelphia luminary, Scullion hopes this papal visit will bring the community together.

"We're hoping that people are moved to acknowledge a higher power and to also acknowledge the power within ourselves to act," Scullion told the New York Times.

"Knot Grotto" was inspired by one of Pope Francis' favorite paintings, "Mary Untier of Knots."

The Johann Georg Schmidtner painting depicts Mary, surrounded by angels, untying knots to form a long strip.

Photo by Alejandro Pagni/AFP/Getty Images.

The knots symbolize struggles or dilemmas with unclear solutions. The devotional to the Holy Mother became one of Pope Francis' favorites after he completed his doctoral studies in Germany, where the prayer is particularly common.

As Saligman told ABC6 of their inspiration, "Our contemporary interpretation of this tradition is the knotted grotto of Mary clearing pathways for people to help them with their struggle."

Photo by Stephanie Cole and Dan Ostrov.

Many hands make light work, and many more hands are bringing "Knot Grotto" to life.

For the past six weeks, a full team of artists, assistants, and architectural consultants have been hard at work constructing the piece. From computer sketches, bracing, sanding, and everything in between, getting the grotto off the ground was truly a team effort.

It takes a team to make a grotto. Photo by Stephanie Cole and Dan Ostrov.

Saligman brought Ostrov and Cole (partners in art and in life) to lead the design and construction of the larger-than-life installation.

Constructed of ash and mahogany pieces made pliable in a steam chamber, the grotto is large enough for visitors to walk inside, where they'll be surrounded by dynamic curves and light.

"We've had to resort to some crazy measures to make this happen, but by God we're gonna do it," Cole told Upworthy.

Ostrov adds finishing touches to the top of "Knot Grotto." Photo by Stephanie Cole and Dan Ostrov.

More than beautiful, the piece is meant to unite people through their common struggles.

Visitors to the sculpture write down their challenges, wishes, hopes, and prayers, then tie them onto the grotto. All summer long, Saligman has been collecting knots by mail and at pop-up events in Philadelphia.

Tens of thousands have already been submitted, and more are expected to arrive ahead of Pope Francis' Mass in Philadelphia on Sept. 26.

Come join us outside of the Free Library! #weaving #Philadelphia #FrancisFund #PopeFrancis #MercyandJustice #ProjectHome #untietheknots
A photo posted by Meg Saligman (@megamural) on

The wishes, prayers, and struggles are diverse. Some are prayers for help with addiction; others struggle with student loans, or simply pray to be good parents.

"The fabric [knots] will come up through the middle ... so it will almost be like the struggles are ascending to heaven," Ostrov told Upworthy.

Photo by Stephanie Cole and Dan Ostrov.

Leaving prayers in the knotted grotto is just one part of Project HOME's three-part mission for the papal visit. The Mercy and Justice initiative is also encouraging visitors to contribute to The Francis Fund, a group of faith-based and non-religious organizations assisting people experiencing poverty and homelessness in the Philadelphia area, and to reach out to their elected officials to advocate legislation that encourages mercy and justice.

With nearly 2 million people descending on the city, the installation will serve as a peaceful place for fellowship.

With throngs of pilgrims and spectators expected in Philadelphia, Ostov hopes the grotto, on display now outside the The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul — the church where Pope Francis is leading Mass — will serve as a sanctuary in the crowded scene.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where Pope Francis will lead Mass. Photo by Terry Robinson/Flickr (cropped).

"I'm kind of imagining this quiet area within this mass of people, and people would start reading the struggles ... and they have this moment of kinship."

Cole agreed, adding, "I think the general hope is that this will really bring more synergy to the city."

No matter what they're praying for or struggling with, Scullion hopes the papal visit will serve to unite people of all faiths and walks of life. As she told the New York Times, "We need God's grace to untie the knots, but we also need each other."

Every frame a picture.... Come add your knot to the grotto today through September 28th @megamural @mercy_justice @artprogram_projecthome #mercyandjustice #philadelphia #popefrancisph #instasculpture #instaart #woodart #woodworking #woodsculpture #sculpture
A photo posted by Daniel Ostrov & Stephanie Cole (@steamchamber) on

The "Knot Grotto" officially opens Thursday, Sept. 3 and will remain on display outside the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul until Monday, Sept. 28.

Moricz was banned from speaking up about LGBTQ topics. He found a brilliant workaround.

Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.

Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.

Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”

However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.

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Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

Joy

50-years ago they trade a grilled cheese for a painting. Now it's worth a small fortune.

Irene and Tony Demas regularly traded food at their restaurant in exchange for crafts. It paid off big time.

Photo by Gio Bartlett on Unsplash

Painting traded for grilled cheese worth thousands.

The grilled cheese at Irene and Tony Demas’ restaurant was truly something special. The combination of freshly baked artisan bread and 5-year-old cheddar was enough to make anyone’s mouth water, but no one was nearly as devoted to the item as the restaurant’s regular, John Kinnear.

Kinnear loved the London, Ontario restaurant's grilled cheese so much that he ordered it every single day, though he wouldn’t always pay for it in cash. The Demases were well known for bartering their food in exchange for odds and ends from local craftspeople and merchants.

“Everyone supported everyone back then,” Irene told the Guardian, saying that the couple would often trade free soup and a sandwich for fresh flowers. Two different kinds of nourishment, you might say.

And so, in the 1970s the Demases made a deal with Kinnear that he could pay them for his grilled cheese sandwiches with artwork. Being a painter himself and part of an art community, Kinnear would never run out of that currency.

Little did Kinnear—or anyone—know, eventually he would give the Demases a painting worth an entire lifetime's supply of grilled cheeses. And then some.

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