April 11, 2016 — The Vatican’s newest statue appears to be an anonymous homeless person sleeping on a bench, until you take a closer look. Recently installed outside the Office of Papal Charities at the Vatican, “Homeless Jesus” depicts a person lying down on a bench, almost entirely covered by a blanket, save for the feet — which bear the wounds of the Crucifixion.
The newest installation of “Homeless Jesus” is located outside the Office of Papal Charities at the Vatican.
The sculptor, Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz, decided to represent Jesus this way after seeing a homeless person sleeping on a bench outside during the Christmas season.
"That is Jesus. That is how we should perceive the least among us in our heart," Schmalz said. “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.”
A close-up of the feet of the “Homeless Jesus” statue that is installed in Washington, D.C. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)
According to Schmalz, the location of the newest installation of the statue is the most fitting and noteworthy so far.
“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. Last year, the Office of Papal Charities opened a new homeless shelter in a Jesuit-owned building just outside the Vatican and also began offering free shaves and haircuts to those in need.
In November 2013, Schmalz had the chance to present Pope Francis with a five-foot long miniature of the statue during a general audience in Saint Peter's Square.
The pope blessed the smaller model, calling it a “beautiful piece of art.”
That first meeting with the pope probably kick-started the push to get the larger version of the statue brought to the Vatican, Schmalz believes.
"He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus in the 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," Schmalz said.
Father Michael Czerny, SJ, a Canadian Jesuit who now works for the Vatican department responsible for social issues, said the pope was “impressed.”
“The statue represents an image of Christ in a way we don’t always recognize,” Fr. Czerny said.
The original life-sized casting of Homeless Jesus sits next to the entrance to Regis College, the University of Toronto’s Jesuit school of theology, and was installed in 2013. Other replicas are on display in Australia, Cuba, India, Ireland, Spain and in a number of cities across the U.S., including at Saints Peter & Paul Jesuit Catholic Church in Detroit. The Vatican’s statue is a gift from a Canadian sponsor, who helped Schmalz when he was 20 years old.
Schmalz has also created a number of other sculptures that follow a similar theme. 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.