Vatican sculpture dedicated to migrants unveiled

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image copyrightEPA
image captionPope Francis has been outspoken in his support of migrants

Pope Francis has unveiled a monument in St. Peter's Square dedicated to the world's migrants and refugees.

The "Angels Unaware" boat by Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz depicts 140 migrants ranging from a Jewish man escaping Nazi Germany to a Syrian refugee fleeing the civil war.

The 20-foot sculpture was unveiled during mass on the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sunday.

Depictions of Christ's parents Mary and Joseph have been included in the piece.

Pope Francis once famously likened the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem to the migrations of millions of refugees fleeing wars.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe piece depicts migrants from throughout history

Mr Schmalz told the BBC that the piece was inspired by the passage: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it."

"I wanted a sculpture that would be inclusive of every migrant experience ... over the centuries," Mr Schmalz said from Rome.

"Every time you look at it you get that visual message instantly that migration is something that humanity has always had. All cultures, all races, all religions."

image copyrightReuters
image captionTimothy P. Schmalz's previous pieces include 'Homeless Jesus Christ'

As well as refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and Syria, there are dozens of other depictions including a boy fleeing the Irish Famine of the 1840s.

Mr Schmalz, whose past creations include 'Homeless Jesus Christ' - depictions of Jesus sleeping rough on benches outside cathedrals - said his latest piece took a year of working "obsessively, from 4 in the morning".

"Angels Unaware" is facing in a direction intended to portray the boat sailing towards St. Peter's Basilica, he said.

"It's one thing to say you're being welcoming but to show it with a piece of bronze artwork in St. Peters Square is really powerful," he said.

"This is not a museum here."

image copyrightEPA
image captionThe 20-foot sculpture took a year to build
image copyrightEPA
image captionAn angel was placed at the centre of the piece

The sculptor said Pope Francis made his appreciation clear.

"He put his two hands on his heart, looked at me for a moment," he said.

"That gesture, he really showed to me how much he thinks this is a suitable sculpture to promote his ideas."

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