TORONTO -- A sculpture by a Canadian artist has been installed at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City.

Pope Francis unveiled the bronze sculpture by Timothy Schmalz Sunday at the end of the weekly Mass at the square.

The piece "Angels Unawares" depicts a group of migrants huddled together on a boat. The depicted migrants represent a variety of cultures and historic time periods.

"I wanted this artistic work here in St. Peter's Square to remind everyone of the evangelical challenge of hospitality," Francis said.

Support for migrants and refugees has been a common theme of Pope Francis' public remarks. He has pushed world leaders to allow as many migrants into their countries as possible, and urged a worldwide understanding and tolerance of people looking to escape persecution.

In March, he donated US$500,000 to help migrants in Mexico. Two months later, he gave eight migrant children who had recently arrived in Italy a ride in his popemobile.

Sunday was not the first time the Pope had come into contact with one of Schmalz's creations.

The St. Jacobs, Ont. artist gained prominence starting in 2013 for his "Homeless Jesus" statues, which depict a man with the face of Jesus sleeping under a blanket on a bench. Schmalz said the design was based on an encounter he had with a homeless man in Toronto.

The artist approached prominent Catholic churches in Toronto and New York, asking them to host his first "Homeless Jesus," but was turned down both times.

He then took the first sculpture to the Vatican, where it was blessed by the pontiff.

Having approval from the Pope led Schmalz to create new "Homeless Jesus" sculptures for churches in countries including South Africa and Israel, as well as a number in Canada.

One that was installed outside a church in Hamilton was mistaken for an actual homeless person during a cold snap, prompting several unnecessary calls to 911.

With files from The Associated Press