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Jesus the Homeless statue seeks London base

22 August 2014

Timothy P. Schmalz

A CANADIAN sculptor, Timothy Schmalz, is appealing for help to find a site in London to place his statue Jesus the Homeless. His bronze statue features a life-size figure, huddled under a blanket and lying on a park bench; wounds in the man's bare feet are the only clue that he is the Christ.

The statue has already been installed in seven cities across North America and Australia, and is due to be erected in Washington, DC, and Rome in the coming months. Now Mr Schmalz says that he has secured funding for the statue to go up in London, and is looking for a suitable location.

"This is visually translating the gospel, and putting it in city centres," he said. The artwork was inspired by a chance encounter with a homeless man in Toronto several years ago. "It was in November, right around the time when it was getting colder. He was on one of the busiest streets in Toronto, using the whole city as his bedroom. It was chilling and heart-wrenching for me. It shocked me into thinking 'I saw Jesus.'"

A Roman Catholic, Mr Schmalz said that he immediately connected his experience to Matthew 25, where Jesus tells his disciples that when they serve the needy, they serve him. Mr Schmalz hoped that his sculpture would provoke the same reaction in others.

"My favourite comment has to be a woman who said: 'Oh, great, every time I see a homeless person, I'm going to think of this sculpture.'".

Others have had a different response. After Jesus the Homeless was placed outside an Episcopal church in Davidson, North Carolina, a number of residents called the police, believing the huddled figure to be a real person.

"A lot of people have problems seeing Jesus represented in that way," Mr Schmalz said. "But I think the artwork is needed because of that reaction. . . When they look really closely, they will see from the wounds on his feet that it is Jesus. That's the eureka moment. This sculpture is as shocking as the Gospels are. It's as shocking as Jesus was."

Although the RC cathedrals of St Patrick's in New York City and St Michael's in Toronto have declined the statue, Pope Francis has seen and blessed a model of it (left). The Vatican has applied to the authorities in Rome to place it on an avenue leading to St Peter's Basilica.

Mr Schmalz says that he expects the artwork to last for "at least 1000 years". "It's a little spiritual experience and a visual lesson [passers-by] can take on them as they rush to their jobs."


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