Angels Unawares

Timothy Schmalz, a renowned Canadian sculptor, has a reputation for producing pieces of art that are influenced by the Bible, including “Homeless Jesus,” a sculpture of a man sleeping on a park bench, wrapped in a blanket and identifiable as Jesus by the wounds on his bare feet. The work was donated by Schmalz in November of 2018 to mark World Day of The Poor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where it was placed outside the Metropolitan Cathedral. Rio Cardinal Orani Tempesta, who blessed the sculpture, was quoted in CRUX:  Humanity has never produced so much wealth and has never seen so much poverty,” a sentiment that can be applied to countries all over the world and which I hope to discuss in a future column. The work is one of many Schmalz pieces that may be seen in cities around the world.

‘Homeless Jesus’ by Timothy Schmalz  Photo: ArlindoPereira – own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Schmalz was in the news this past weekend when another of his Biblical-based works of art was unveiled by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, the first new sculpture to be placed there in 400 years, this one commemorating migrants and refugees.

Schmalz’s inspiration for ‘Angels Unawares’ was Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 13:2:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

The life-size piece in bronze and clay is a depiction of 140 migrants, from all periods of history, that includes Jews, Muslims, Africans and Sikhs described by the Vatican News as standing “shoulder to shoulder on a raft with angel wings emerging from the center,” an indication that “something sacred is among them.”


According to the UN, in our world, one person is forcibly displaced every 2 seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. In his homily during the unveiling of Schmalz’ sculpture, Pope Francis made note that arms are manufactured in many regions and sold to countries where conflicts force people to flee as their homes are destroyed, and family and neighbors are killed or injured. There is obviously a difference between immigrants and refugees, the former usually having left their home countries for various reasons, including, of course, a chance for a better life elsewhere. Refugees are a whole other matter, often fleeing war and destruction, and the deaths of family and friends.

Sculptor Timothy Schmalz with his work ‘Angels Unawares’ Photo: Facebook


Here in Cape Breton, we have witnessed the arrival of members of both groups. If you are fortunate enough to have welcomed some of them in your local parishes or community groups, you have no doubt been amazed at the manner in which so many new arrivals to Canada have settled among us and are adding such a new and dynamic aspect to our liturgies and to our lives.

Many are international students, others are families, and the welcome they have received has been heartfelt as parishioners and clergy have been zealous in their efforts to make them feel at home. One can only imagine what their lives were like before they took the often arduous steps required to leave their own countries and family members behind and travel to an unfamiliar place, not really knowing what awaited them.

Members of the Hamadi family greet parishioners at St. Marguerite Bourgeoys church. The parish sponsored the Syrian family’s arrival in Canada as refugees in 2016. Photo: Facebook

We are becoming accustomed to seeing so many new arrivals as they wait for buses, jog along the sidewalks, serve us at various stores and eateries, attend our schools and churches and otherwise become a vital part of our community. One can only hope that they do feel welcome and that they will find with us a place that truly becomes home to them.




Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.