Today, religious art is the subject of an almost universal indifference. It’s no great task to see why.

In September of 2019, Pope Francis (or, rather, Pope Francis’s coterie of managers, handlers, and other particolored eminences) installed a statue called Angels Unawares in Saint Peter’s Square on the snappily named World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Pope John Paul II had transferred the observance to the Second Sunday after Epiphany. This year, Francis shifted it to the months preceding the presidential election.

The statue depicts a barge full of refugees. The figures, crammed together, stand in several thick-set bronze columns of humanity. Yet the sculpture itself manages to squat rather than stand. Each figure is designed to elicit pity, either because of a certain weather-beaten Promised Land “Leaning-on-the-everlasting-arms” look—or because, like one figure, they crouch, eyes and mouth wide with pain, at the very end of the queue. Both poses are, I am afraid, artistic clichés, and therefore both are deceptive.

Praise the Lord

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