Catholics do not pray to statues.
That would be idolatry and therefore, a violation of the First Commandment. If a person prays to a statue out of superstition, believes that the statue has special powers or is even God – that is idolatry.
However, this is not what Catholics do when they pray in front of a statue. Catholics worship with their whole person and all of the senses. A statue, or any other piece of religious art, is intended to draw the soul deeper into prayer by helping the senses to recall the mystery that it represents.
Crucifixes, a statue of Mary or stain glass windows help to provide a “centering point” for a soul to meditate and contemplate the great mysteries of God.
Statues have quite a history in the Church – they’ve been around for awhile. Before the printing press was invented, it was difficult for a person to find the Bible in print. People didn’t have individual Bibles to teach them about the story of salvation. And even if there was a Bible around most people couldn’t even read.
Statues and other pieces of religious art became a means for the Church to teach the Bible. A person could walk into a monastery or church and learn about Jesus Christ by simply looking at the religious art and the story that the art told.
In fact, the Catholic Church’s long history of art reflects her ability to impact and evangelize within culture. The greatest artistic period of the modern world was the Renaissance period. If you do a tour of Europe and look at Renaissance art, it’s almost all religious art pointing to Christian Tradition or Biblical stories. The art of the time period reflects the Catholic Church’s ability to evangelize an entire culture so that everything spoke of the glory of God.