Put Out into the Deep

We Have Built Up Our Nation by the Sweat and Sacrifices of Immigrants

A sculpture called “Angels Unawares” is seen at The Catholic University of America in Washington Sept. 27, 2020. (Photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

This week, as in the past five years, our DeSales Media Group sponsored a Christmas Tree lighting in Grand Army Plaza in front of the monument dedicated to the Union Soldiers from Brooklyn who fought in the Civil War. In addition to the tree, a large Nativity has a place of honor.

This year, the Nativity has been replaced by a duplicate of the sculpture which was commissioned by the Holy See and has been placed at the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square for the past year. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, unveiled this sculpture on Refugee Day in September 2019. The duplicate of this beautiful sculpture is here in the United States and is making its way to the Cathedral Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The statue will be here in the Diocese from the December 8 unveiling for about a month before it goes to Atlanta, Georgia for the month of January.

The Diocese was offered the opportunity to display the statue here in Brooklyn because we indeed are a diocese of immigrants. Truly, it is a unique sculpture. Because we may not be able to view this in person due to the pandemic, we have dedicated a part of our website to the sculpture so that many of the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens may have an opportunity to view this work of art online (https://dioceseofbrooklyn.org/angels-unawares/) during the Christmas season.

The inspiration of the work comes from the passage from Hebrews 13:2 found in the New Testament:  “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” The title of the sculpture is “Angels Unawares.”  We do not know when we give a hand to a stranger that, indeed, we could be entertaining angels, as was the case in the Old Testament from which the Epistle to the Hebrews takes its cue.

The artist, Timothy Schmalz, is Canadian. In many ways, Mr. Schmalz is just as good a theologian as he is a sculptor. The bronze sculpture, which took many months to cast, contains 140 different people, immigrants from various generations. He collected vintage photographs of the people’s grandparents who crossed the Atlantic and others who arrived as immigrants.

The artist depicts a Jewish person escaping Nazi Germany right beside a Muslim from today escaping from Syria, as well as a Polish woman leaving communist Poland right beside an Irish boy escaping from the potato famine. Truly, the sculpture is a collage of immigration over the past 150 years, which reminds us today that in the United States, we truly are all descendants of immigrants in one way or another, except of course for our Native population.

The Diocese of Brooklyn is truly honored to be able to host this amazing sculpture here in our own city for the next few weeks. There is much intimacy to the sculpture itself (which is explained in more detail on Page 34) including the great symbolism that is contained in this beautiful work of art. We see one special point where a bag of bread and fruit is carried by one of the migrants.

The sculptor explained, “That bag is a metaphor of nourishment, which can also be cultural and spiritual nourishment – the idea of bringing something to the table, not only food, but bringing abundance over, contributing in a sense. If you look at the way immigrants have contributed, it’s unbelievable. I made it a simple representation of bread and fruit to represent the food of all cultures.”

Yes, Mr. Schmalz teaches us that immigrants truly have contributed, certainly to the culture of the United States and even to his native Canada. We have built up our nation by the sweat and sacrifices of immigrants who in the past normally entered into their new homeland through the lower echelons of society and worked their way up to be more than contributing citizens, but to actually become all the necessary components that make up a productive society. Immigrants bring new blood, and a renewed ability to sacrifice not only for their families, but also for the Nation.

We can never underestimate why the United States is such a great Nation. Truly, it is because we can clearly trace the successes to our immigrant roots. In the middle of the sculpture is a depiction of the Holy Family on their Flight Into Egypt. Yes, the migrant story touched the life of Jesus as the Holy Family had to flee when King Herod was seeking the child to take His life.

This year, in the midst of this pandemic, this unique Christmas Creche will allow us to understand the sacrifices of the past that brought us to this point and that more sacrifice is necessary if we are to bring our great Nation to understand the contribution of immigration, so that we can have just laws to monitor the flow our new immigrants and refugees.

Each year, we put out into the deep, looking for ways to celebrate Christmas and its real meaning. This year, we have a real symbol of Christmas in our midst here at Grand Army Plaza, reminding us that as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who Himself was a migrant, we need to open our hearts and minds in our own Nation to those who struggle today in various types of immigrant status. Pray with me that our Christmas gift as a Nation will be a renewed understanding of our immigration responsibilities in the years to come.