‘Angels Unawares’ Unveiled on CUA Campus


Image courtesy of CUA communications 

by Jacqueline Jedrych

The CUA Community grew a little bit richer this September with the addition of a second casting of ‘Angels Unawares,’ a statue to commemorate the plight of immigrants. The statue was commissioned by Pope Francis and will travel on a national tour before finding its permanent resting spot on Catholic University’ss campus. 

In the World Day of Migrants and Refugees ceremony on September 27, the statue was unveiled at a temporary location to a small group of members of the Catholic University community who immigrated to the United States or whose families immigrated here. The ceremony included a blessing from Archbishop Gregory and remarks from Timothy Schmalz, the sculptor of the piece. Also in attendance were: University President Garvey; Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States; Sandra Barrueco, Ph.D., director of Latin American and Latino Studies at Catholic University; and junior Brayan Hernandez, a refugee to the United States. The ceremony was also available via livestream

“The World Day of Migrants and Refugees is a call to each of us to provide personally for the care of migrants and refugees through our prayers, charitable works, and advocacy with and on behalf of our brothers and sisters,” said Archbishop Gregory during the ceremony.

Junior education studies and politics major Hernandez appreciates the statement that the statue makes on CUA’s campus. Being a refugee and coming from a family of immigrants, Hernandez felt a personal connection to the statue and what it represents. For him, it represents the history of migrants’ resilience. 

“Speaking at this ceremony and having the statute on campus will challenge many [to look] past the views of security and understand the true feelings of immigration and persecution without being blinded by racism and misconceptions,” Hernandez said.

The statue was originally supposed to begin its tour last spring, but was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. It arrived in April from the Vatican to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which was intended to be its first stop. The statute will remain in its current location until it is able to resume its tour. Locations it will visit include Boston, Massachusetts, South Bend, Indiana, and San Antonio, Texas. While the statue travels the country, the University will raise funds to construct a plaza near Gibbons Hall featuring a reflecting pool, seating, and an exhibit sharing the statue’s history.  

The inspiration for the 20-foot long, 4-ton bronze statue comes from Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” 

Schmalz said the work came from a spiritual place. 

“Most of the time when I sculpt, I turn on the Bible. Actually, I have it on unabridged tapes read by Steven B. Stevens,” Schmalz said. “Just listening to the Bible as I sculpt… turns my studio into a sort of a chapel and a very spiritual place when the sound is being filled up with Biblical texts.”

The statue features 140 migrants on a boat. Some look back towards their past, but most look hopefully on to their future. Schmalz had African refugees visit his Canada-based studio to model. His goal was to create a unifying statue, that exemplifies all migration, races, ethnicities, genders, and family situations that have been forced to move throughout the world. 

“You have a Jew escaping Nazi Germany right beside a Muslim from today escaping Syria and… you have a Polish woman leaving communist Poland right beside an Irish boy escaping from the potato famine,” Schmalz said.

Among the faces gathered on the boat are Mother Mary, Saint Joseph, and Mother Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants.

On April 16, 2017, the original small model of the statue was blessed by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square. At the same time, a large version was confirmed to be installed in St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome. In September 2019, a large bronze version debuted in St. Peter’s Square, and the smaller bronze version was installed in St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome. A second casting of the large model arrived at Catholic University last month.

The statue left for Boston College last week and will return to CUA after its national tour. 

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