Pope Francis blesses Timothy Schmalz’s Jesus the Homeless sculpture. Schmalz donated his sculpture to the Vatican Archives. Photo courtesy of Timothy Schmalz

Canadian artist’s homeless Jesus finds shelter at the Vatican

  • December 7, 2013

Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz’s life-sized bronze sculpture depicting Jesus as a homeless man lying on a park bench has found a home at the Vatican.

Schmalz, the St. Jacob’s, Ont.- based artist who created Jesus the Homeless, was at the Vatican on Nov. 20, where Pope Francis blessed the original five-foot model of the sculpture. Schmalz donated the model to the Vatican Archives and hopes to have it installed by Easter 2014. The plan is to install the sculpture between Castel Sant’Angelo and the street leading to St. Peter’s Square.

The first life-sized cast of the sculpture was installed at Regis College, the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto, as was first reported by The Catholic Register on March 10.

“Two weeks later (after the installation at Regis), the first Jesuit Pope is elected in the history of the Catholic Church,” said Schmalz.

He describes the sculpture as a “visual ambassador” for the work Pope Francis is calling people to, which is “to be more concerned with the marginalized.”

The model of the homeless Jesus was placed on a pedestal in St. Peter’s Square and, after his weekly general audience, the Pope touched the knee of the figure and said a short prayer before being introduced to Schmalz.

“He thinks it is a beautiful sculpture,” said Schmalz, who feels he has the “thumbs up from Pope Francis.”

Following the Pope’s blessing of Jesus the Homeless, another of Schmalz’s visual ambassadors was stolen from outside the Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields in Toronto.

“Whatsoever you do” also depicts Christ as a marginalized person and was on loan indeffinitely to the church since September until the parish could afford to purchase its own. It dissappeared on Nov. 30.

Two people and a truck would be needed to steal the sculpture, which weighs more than 45 kilograms, said Schmalz.

“It became a very meaningful symbol to the homeless people there because they saw the son of man looking like themselves,” he said. “There seems to be some emptiness now.”

Schmalz has become increasingly well-known since meeting with the Pope, which was set up with the help of Monsignor Maurizio Bravi, Chargé d’Affaires of the Apostolic Nunciature, Msgr. Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese of Chicago, and Jesuit Father Peter Bisson, provincial of the Jesuits in English Canada.
The sculpture is Schmalz’s visual translation of the Gospel.

In Matthew 25, “Jesus doesn’t say whenever you’ve fed the hungry, clothed the naked, it’s like you did it to me. He said you’ve done that to me,” he said.

“A picture, you can flip it over if you don’t like it. You can’t do that with a sculpture. A homily lasts for a period of time; those sounds (and) words disappear. A bronze sculpture will always be there and that’s why I think it’s very important to have these visual ambassadors out there in our environment.”

A Jesus the Homeless sculpture was also recently installed at King’s University College at Western University in London, Ont. Another sculpture is located in Chicago and one is being shipped to Perth, Australia. Schmalz had hoped to donate one of his sculptures to St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, but the cathedral was unable to accept the piece due to massive renovations currently underway.

“My intent was to put these sculptures in all the major cities in North America and Europe and the world,” said Schmalz.

With people from around the globe visiting Rome, he said, “to have that sculpture there is basically preaching that Gospel message to the world, and that’s phenomenal.”

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