~ by Christopher White, Global Sisters Report
Pope Francis has said that human trafficking is a modern form of human slavery, and he has been critical of governments, business leaders, and those in civil society who turn a blind eye to it.
Now, Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz is hoping his new sculpture will help put a spotlight on an issue he believes too many individuals and governments would prefer to look away from. And on Sunday, February 6, the pope offered his blessing – both to the sculpture and to the religious sisters on the front lines leading the fight against human trafficking.
The design for the sculpture is inspired, in part, by the work of the 19th- century Canossian religious sister, now Saint Josephine Bakhita, who hailed from the Darfur region of Sudan and was kidnapped by traffickers at age 9. Upon becoming free, she entered religious life and committed herself to caring for the poor and destitute. She is the patron saint of human trafficking victims and survivors.
The bronze statue design – which will eventually have permanent homes in both Rome and the United States – depicts Bakhita opening up the gates of the underworld and allowing those enslaved by trafficking to be set free. More than 50 individuals represent a range of trafficking victims – including a child bride, young beggars, an individual trafficking for their organs, both men and women enslaved in prostitution.
Schmalz told Global Sisters Report he hopes the sculpture, titled, “Let the Oppressed Go Free,” will become a “weapon of awareness.”
“Thank you for your courage,” the pope said to the religious sisters present with a 10-foot bronze model of the statue in St. Peter’s Square during his remarks after the Sunday Angelus.