As refugees from many countries turn hopeful faces toward the United States, we might be guided in our response by a bronze sculpture and the words it is based on. “Angels Unawares” was created by Timothy Schmalz and honors migrants, refugees, and enslaved and displaced people from many times and places. Standing shoulder to shoulder on a lifeboat are 140 figures. Among them are African slaves, Native Americans, a Protestant fleeing the counter-Reformation, a Jewish man escaping the Holocaust, Vietnamese and Syrian families. Schmalz’s inspiration came from the letter to the Hebrews: “Do not hesitate to welcome strangers, for by doing so, some have entertained angels unawares” (13:2). The refugees look toward a distant shore, where they might find welcome. Angel wings rise above them, reminding viewers of the dignity of every person, and the gifts they bring to a country or a people who welcome them.
By Mara Faulkner, OSB
Photograph supplied by Tracy Rittmueller, OblSB