This week Pope Francis unveiled a sculpture by a Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz which represents “displaced people throughout history.” It is an arc-like boat, carrying sculptures of recognizable ethnic and religious migrants. Jews, Syrians, Africans. The sculpture was requested by the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees office, but overseen by the pope himself according to a report in Crux.
It’s a curious thing. The Church typically wants statues and icons to be of Biblical figures or venerable saints and blesseds. But this one is to an idea: migration itself. One wonders if the statue is meant as a political message to the Italian government, which until a few weeks ago included Lega and its leader, Mario Salvini, who came to power on a popular message against further migration into Italy.
It reminds me of the Fearless Girl statue from Wall Street. It makes the Catholic Church like a corporation or NGO putting out a safe, corporate message. But even saying so feels like taking the bait.