March 24, 2016 — A life-size sculpture of the Nazarene, depicted as a homeless person lying down on a bench, has been placed at the entrance of the Office of Papal Charities. It was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz.
The man is lying down on a bench, his body almost entirely covered by a thin blanket. You cannot see the face, just the feet poking out and these bear the unequivocal signs of the crucifixion. At the start of Holy Week in this Year of Mercy, a bronze sculpture depicting Jesus as a homeless person has been placed in Sant'Egidio's courtyard in the Vatican, at the entrance to the Office of Papal Charities.
The artist decided to represent Jesus of Nazareth in this original way after seeing a homeless person sleeping on a bench outside during the Christmas period. "That is Jesus. That is how we should perceive the least among us in our heart," Schmalz wrote.
At one of the General Audiences in St. Peter's Square in November 2013, the author had the chance to present the Pope with a miniature of the homeless Jesus. In a statement to US media, the sculptor said: "He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus the Homeless sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed. It was like, that's what he's doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalized."
The statue is a gift from a Canadian sponsor, who helped Schmalz when he was 20 years old. The original is located at Regis College, at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Many other replicas are on display in Australia, Cuba, India, Ireland, Spain (at Madrid's Almudena cathedral) and in a number of cities across the US.
In April 2014, another replica of the same bronze sculpture was installed outside the small Episcopalian church of St. Alban in Davidson, North Carolina: one evening, the local police received a phone call from a woman expressing her concern because she thought she had seen a real homeless person in flesh and blood lying on the bench as she passed by on the other side of the street. In November that year, another replica of the sculpture was placed in front of London's Methodist Westminster Central Hall, just a short distance away from Westminster Abbey and Big Ben.
Schmalz is the author of a number of sculptures that follow this theme, for example a bronze work of Christ the Beggar is located at the entrance of the new wing of the Santo Spirito hospital in Rome, close to the Vatican. "I describe my sculptures as being visual prayers," the artist says.
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