The artist said that he hopes the new piece of art in St. Peter's Square "confirms the idea that this is a living Church, that it's not a museum," as Pope Francis has frequently repeated.
It is "something that has been created in the year 2019, and so it doesn't necessarily and it should not look like a sculpture that was created in the 1600s," he said.
It is not his first work for the Vatican - an installation of Schmalz's "Homeless Jesus" was created for Vatican City in 2016. In November 2019, his sculpture entitled "I was naked and you clothed me" was installed in front of St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington D.C.
"Angels Unawares" came about after Cardinal Michael Czerny, then a Jesuit priest, asked Schmalz to think about creating a new sculpture based on the theme of migration.
The artist sent Czerny photos of a small model of his idea, which Fr. Czerny then showed them to Pope Francis who invited Schmalz to come to Rome for further discussions.
"It was probably after six months of working on the concept that I heard that Pope Francis wanted to install it right here in Saint Peter's Square. And so at that time I began to drop everything in my life to start working on this project," Schmalz said. "Everyday I woke up at 4 in the morning until basically at then end of the day working obsessively on the piece."
Schmalz recently completed a live sculpting of a nativity display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. in which visitors to the museum could watch him as he worked.
"I'm always searching for Scripture that I can bring to life, bring to sculpture, bring to art," he told CNA.
"Within Christianity today, we need to use as many weapons as possible to get our message across because there's a lot of competition out there for people's attention on so many different issues," Schmalz said.
"Christianity is an endless source of creativity for artists," he said.
(Story continues below)
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All photos credit: Daniel Ibanez / CNA.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.