A statue of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the patron of human trafficking victims, will be displayed in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Feb. 6.
The bronze sculpture, a piece by Catholic artist Timothy P. Schmalz, is dedicated to trafficking victims and to all women, especially the religious sisters who work to free women from modern day slavery.
The artwork depicts the saint, herself once a slave, freeing a mass of people from underground. It will arrive at the Vatican ahead of the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking on Feb. 8.
The 10-foot model is identical to multiple 20-foot versions of the sculpture, which will be installed in Europe, Canada, and the United States. After Feb. 6, the smaller Bakhita statue will be displayed in the Diocese of Rome.
Feb. 8 was chosen for the day of prayer because it is the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita, who was born in Sudan in 1869. She was kidnapped at the age of seven and sold into slavery by Arab slave traders. During her time as a slave, she was beaten, tortured, and scarred.
Bakhita discovered Christ and the Church in her early 20s, and after she was freed from slavery, was baptized into the Catholic faith. She also joined the Canossian Sisters in Italy.
Schmalz created his sculpture of the saint in 2019. He has named it: “Let the Oppressed Go Free.”
The Canadian artist is also the creator of another sculpture in St. Peter’s Square, “Angels Unawares,” which depicts migrants throughout history crammed on a boat together with the holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Schmalz, of course, is also well-known for his “Homeless Jesus” sculpture which has been popularized and installed near churches and public spaces all over the world. You can learn more about his art at his website.
Below are two videos in which the artist talks about the creation of this new work.