With the installation and blessing of sculptor Timothy Schmaltz’s “Angels Unawares” replica in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, we are reminded of a powerful reality — we are a nation of immigrants. And, in a special way, it also reminds us that we are a Church of Immigrants. In no place is this more the case than the Diocese of Brooklyn. It also reminds us that Christmastime is a season of hope, even during this challenging year of 2020.
At the very foundation of our faith, we will find migration and immigration. One can state that immigration comes up by necessity in the first book of the Bible, Genesis (Gn 3:23), when our first parents, Adam and Eve, have to find a new home after their justly deserved and necessary expulsion. In Genesis 11, Abraham leaves his home in Ur and arrives in Canaan. This leaving of home out of necessity (in both these cases, famine) is also seen in the other Patriarchs, Isaac (Gn 12:10) and
Jacob (Gn 26:1).
The next example is found in Moses — in the Book of Exodus — and then later in the great Book of Ruth, who is herself an immigrant who elects to stay in the land of her late husband, Emilech, and care for her mother-in-law, Naomi, who herself migrates from Bethlehem to Moab. And of course, there are the Israelites themselves, being exiled from their own land and being brought to a foreign land. The list of Old Testament immigrants could go on and on.
In Matthew 2:13, we read about the Holy Family — Our Lord Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph — fleeing from the tyranny and danger of the illegitimate king, Herod, and traveling into what was traditionally for the Jews a place of very bad memories: Egypt. No one can deny the fact that the Holy Family of Nazareth were refugees.
Although this is the only section of the Gospels where the issue of refugees and migrants are explicitly brought forward, one does not have to look very far to see Christ’s call to love one’s neighbors, as succinctly phrased: “Love God above all else, with all your heart, mind, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37).
Yes, we as Christians must do all we can do to welcome the stranger. For were not all of us strangers once ourselves? The unveiling of the statue and the lighting of the 35-foot Christmas tree at Grand Army Plaza brought a multicultural community together. The ceremony was held on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Patroness of the United States, at a time when we are looking forward to Christmas and to the end of the worst part of the pandemic. That feeling of hope was palpable at the ceremony.
“[This sculpture] is a symbol of what we want to be, and what we have been in the past, and what the future holds for us if we hold to our values as Americans, Bishop DiMarzio said. Mayor Bill de Blasio, also present at the unveiling of the statue, commented: “It recognizes the goodness in all of us. The angels walk among us.”
“This is really important to say at the outset,” the mayor said, “all the people who have been fed, all the people who’ve got face coverings, all the folks who are helped in the middle of this crisis — the Diocese of Brooklyn was there for them.”
The statue is a tribute to migrants, from the North-African people who are risking their lives today crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the Holy Family in their flight to Egypt.