A sculpture generously donated by the Rudolph P. Bratty Foundation has been unveiled in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday as part of commemoration ceremonies for the World Day of Migrants & Refugees.
The massive bronze statue, called Angels Unawares, was created by renowned Ontario artist Timothy Schmalz. It depicts the struggle of the world’s refugees, with about 140 life-sized individuals carrying little more than bare essentials aboard a thick wooden raft.
“It’s a great privilege to partner with Tim on this important sculpture,” says Chris Bratty, President of Land Development and Investments at Remington Group Inc., who also oversees the Foundation. “It is complementary to the legacy of my father, Rudolph Bratty, who is the son of a carpenter who emigrated from Italy to Canada many years ago. It is extremely gratifying that the work will be viewed by millions of people visiting the Vatican for decades to come.”
The piece is particularly poignant given the plight of the world’s refugees in current society – from US President Donald Trump building border walls, to Syrian refugees flooding neighbouring borders, to ongoing debate in Canada over immigration levels and safe cities.
“The work is inspired from biblical scripture; in fact, from an amazing passage, Hebrew 13:2: ‘Be welcoming to strangers, many have entertained angels unawares,’” Schmalz says. “I would like to think it highlights the idea that the sacred can be found in the stranger and it is our spiritual duty to be welcoming. It also shows that all people from all cultures once were like the refugee of today.”
Schmalz says he worked on the Angels Unawares for over a year and a half, and it will be the eighth piece he has had installed in churches around Rome and the Vatican. The piece is about 20 feet long and 12 feet high, and weighs in at over 3.8 US tons.
“It shows that Rome and the Vatican is not just a museum but a living environment,” Schmalz said during a conversation earlier this week in China. “Today new, relevant artistic expressions are possible.”
Schmalz says the faces depicted in Angels Unawares – haggard, worn but hopeful and optimistic – are all based on real people.
“A lot of people gave me photos of their ancestors who were migrants,” Schmalz says. “I also had real refugees in my studio that modeled for some of the faces. It made the experience of sculpting all that more meaningful.”
He also says he hopes the statue has an impact on viewers.
“Artwork has the power to crystalize a subject matter,” he says. “It is very powerful to ‘see’ an idea. I think that a work like this is the best use of art, to guide people to be more compassionate.”
World Day of Migrants & Refugees is a celebration held since 1914 to increase awareness about migration and the many different vulnerable people on the move across the globe.
The Rudolph P. Bratty Family Foundation supports many charitable organizations with a focus on family, health and wellness, and cultural initiatives, including Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Foundation, St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation of Toronto, Markham Stouffville Hospital Foundation, Art Gallery of Ontario and Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation for the Diocese of Toronto in Canada.
Bratty’s business accomplishments as Chairman and CEO of the Remington Group are paralleled by his deep commitment to many charities. A major financial supporter of Pier 21, which celebrates Canada’s immigrant history, he was a member of the original National Advisory Council.