“Let the Oppressed Go Free,” New St. Josephine Bakhita Sculpture Raises Awareness of Human Trafficking’s Global Impact on All Societies and the Vulnerability among Latino Communities
New York, NY – March 16, 2023 – The Archdiocese of New York is set to unveil Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture, “Let the Oppressed Go Free”: A statue of Josephine Bakhita, the patron of human trafficking victims. Schmalz is Canadian and renowned for his powerful and thought-provoking sculptures that address social issues.
The statue’s unveiling will occur on March 17th at 8:30 am EDT during a Mass for St. Patrick’s Day, as St. Patrick was also a victim of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a global problem affecting millions of people worldwide.
“This sculpture will be situated beside the Virgin of Guadalupe statue since Latin America is a common place where human trafficking tragedies occur,” explains Father Enrique Salvo, Rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
It is hoped that the statue will serve as a reminder of the ongoing struggle against human trafficking and inspire people to take action to prevent this crime.
According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report published by the U.S. Department of State, Latin America is a region of origin, transit, and destination for human trafficking. The report identified several countries in the region as being particularly problematic, including Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. The report noted that trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation continues to be the most prevalent form of human trafficking in the region. Source
On March 17th, the statue of Josephine Bakhita will be unveiled during the morning Mass ahead of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. A press event will follow on Sunday, March 19th at 11:15 EDT, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan will bless the statue and both the benefactor and the artist Timothy Schmalz will give remarks.
Titled “Let the Oppressed Go Free”, the statue of Josephine Bakhita is a 20-foot-long sculpture with around 100 figures of victims of all ages and ethnicities. It is a vivid representation of how human trafficking can affect anyone. St. Josephine Bakhita is releasing the victims from underneath the ground in this sculpture, portraying their liberation through her fight against this tragedy.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral has around six million visitors a year, making it an important place to create awareness. It also serves as a reminder that St. Patrick, the patron of the cathedral and the Archdiocese of New York, was a victim of human trafficking himself when he was kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland at a young age.
“As with St. Josephine Bakhita, St. Patrick is someone we can pray to on behalf of all victims,” explains Father Salvo. “Through prayer and advocacy, the Church is committed to ending this tragedy.”
Father Salvo describes the sculpture as beautiful, impactful, and powerful, like any good art that creates awareness. He also expresses his gratitude to the media for covering this story,
“The whole reason for the sculpture itself is to create awareness about the tragedy of human trafficking, which is so prevalent and at the same time so easily forgotten by all of us,” he says.
There are millions of people affected by human trafficking across the world in many areas of our society, and it is important for everyone to do their part in cultivating awareness.
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