Pope Francis and the Vatican presented a new monument facing the Basilica in St. Peter’s Square honoring migrants of the world throughout history. The BBC reports that the piece, entitled “Angels Unaware” was made of bronze by the Canadian artist, Timothy P. Schmalz and meant to depict one hundred forty migrants of diverse backgrounds travelling by boat. Standing at about twenty feet tall, the tributary sculpture was officially unveiled on Sunday during a mass service in honor of the one hundred fifth Day of Migrants and Refugees. The monument is meant to pay homage to the displaced, according to the New York Times, and aligns with the Pope’s longtime belief in offering “compassion and charity” toward those with a migrant status of any sort throughout the world. The monument was requested by the Vatican’s Office of Migrants and Refugees, and funded through the Rudolph P. Bratty Family Foundation, according to the New York Times.
The Times also reported that Pope Francis spoke to a gathered crowd following the unveiling of the statue, stating that it is “the poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged who pay the price’ of wars, injustice, economic and social imbalances.” The Pope further called for the employment of the words “welcome, protect, promote, and integrate” when considering migrants as those in “existential peripheries.” According to the BBC, artist Schmalz relayed of the piece that he wanted it to be “inclusive of every migrant experience…over the centuries.” Illustrating the rhetorical purpose of the monument, Schmalz said, “it’s one thing to say you’re welcoming but to show it with a piece of bronze artwork in St. Peter’s Square is really powerful.”
To be frank, the history of the papacy has not exactly been scandal-free throughout time. While the present state of Catholicism leaves much to be desired in terms of universal morality, Pope Francis is not bad as far as the Popes of history go. In some contexts, take migration ideology, for example, many past and current world leaders, more broadly. do not shine beside the rhetoric of Pope Francis. And while perhaps his political stances unite the ideologies of both the American right and left wings in ways which would not make political sense in the United States, the Pope has no electoral victories to gain by behaving compassionately and inclusively, at least in the context of migrants. In a world where cynicism is warranted a large portion of the time, perhaps “Angels Unaware” should be taken at the face – and speech – value.
Francis himself has said that the sculpture was inspired by a certain passage from the New Testament’s “Letter to the Hebrews,” according to the New York Times. The piece does not come without inevitable political implications, however. The past decade’s increasing global spotlight on migration is a result of the millions displaced by war, severe economic disadvantage, the impacts of climate change, etc. Ideological patterns throughout history show that increased migration is accompanied by increased nativist ideologies. In a very real sense, the International Organization for Migration, according to the New York Times, reports that this year alone there have been over two thousand three hundred migrant deaths. The monument addresses past and ongoing wrongs against migrants by uniting the historical plight of the migrant (although heterogeneous).
It is important to keep in mind the quasi-benevolence for the disadvantaged which has always peppered Christian faith narratives of various branches. As appropriations of the appearance of religious ideals have permeated an American political sphere, it is vital to the “good works” aspects of American Catholicism, in particular, to have at least a slight glimmer of progressivism in practice through faith.
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