Pope Francis blesses a smaller sculpture of Homeless Jesus created by Timothy Schmalz in 2013. The life-sized sculpture has found another home on the steps of the papal charities. Photo courtesy of Timothy Schmalz

Homeless Jesus finds a new home at the Vatican

  • March 24, 2016

Homeless Jesus has found another home, this time in the Vatican.

Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture of a homeless man on a park bench, wrapped in a rough blanket, with his bare feet exposed showing the wounds of Good Friday nails through the arches, has been placed in Sant’Egidio’s courtyard, near the entrance to the Office of Papal Charities.

From St. Jacob, Ont., Schmalz told The Catholic Register he couldn’t be more pleased to see his work placed at the entrance to the papal charities.

“I can’t think of any other spot that is more symbolically significant than on the steps going into the papal charities building at the Vatican,” Schmalz said.

The first life-sized casting of Homeless Jesus sits next to the entrance to Toronto’s Regis College, the University of Toronto’s Jesuit faculty of theology. It was installed in 2013.

In addition to the Vatican’s copy of the sculpture, Schmalz has recently seen it installed in front of the Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena in Madrid. On Palm Sunday another copy was permanently installed on St. Thomas Mount, the site of the martyrdom of the Apostle Thomas outside Chennai in southern India.

“I like to say it’s more than a sculpture. It’s almost a movement, where the Gospels are challenging people everywhere around the world,” said Schmalz.

Acceptance at the Vatican follows one day after rejection in London. The City of Westminster Council decided the sculpture “would fail to maintain or improve (preserve or enhance) the character or appearance of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area.”

The London neighbourhood that includes the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace has what its city council calls a “monument saturation zone,” which includes the Methodist Central Hall. The Methodists had applied to place the statue in front of their building.

The English Methodists have launched an online petition and are planning to ask Westminster Council to reconsider.

Each time the sculpture is rejected it stiffens Schmalz’s resolve to see it placed in every major city around the world.

“When they can’t see Jesus in the least of our brothers, I think they need a Gospel lesson,” he said.

Schmalz travelled to Rome in 2013 to have a small model of the eventual sculpture blessed by Pope Francis. The night before his audience with the Pope, Schmalz sat wide awake with anticipation in his Rome hotel room. Looking out his window, Schmalz found himself keeping vigil with a homeless man in the street, just a short walk from St. Peter’s Square.

“I open my window, what do I see? It’s basically a homeless person right bee-line in front of me, down in the street. So all night long I’m awake because I’m excited to have the sculpture blessed by Pope Francis. And the homeless man beneath me is awake because of the cold. I could see he was awake because of the light of his cigarette glowing in the darkness. I sat there at four in the morning thinking, ‘Isn’t this ironic?’ ” said Schmalz.

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