A life-size sculpture showing a homeless Jesus sleeping on a bench was unveiled in front of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago headquarters in River North Monday.
The sculpture is “a reminder that those whom we often view as on the margins of society are among us and deserve our care and help, just as Jesus cared for the least among us,” Monsignor Michael M. Boland, president of Catholic Charities, said in a statement.
The bronze sculpture at first glance could be any homeless person shrouded in a blanket. But closer scrutiny reveals nail holes in the feet, signs of the crucifixion, making it clear it represents Jesus.
The sculpture is displayed at 721 N. LaSalle.
Catholic Charities opens its doors “to those whom many of us may just walk by,” Boland said. “It is my hope that this sculpture will cause people to pause and to pray for those most in need.”
Every 30 seconds, someone turns to Catholic Charities here for assistance, according to the nonprofit, which helps more than 1.2 million people in Cook and Lake counties annually. Many of them are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The sculpture is the work of Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, who has created versions for other cities.
The Chicago piece will be dedicated to Cardinal Francis George later this spring in honor of his 50th anniversary of ordination, which he celebrated late last year. George received a miniature replica of the piece at the agency’s annual ball in December.
Schmalz has been doing sculpture for 25 years working with Christian symbols. He is Catholic and said he considers himself “a visual translator of the bible.”
He decided to do the piece after seeing a homeless person wrapped in a blanket in downtown Toronto a few years ago.
“That to me was instantly Jesus,” he said, noting he was inspired by the bible verse Matthew 25:40, “As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”
He created it to “bring awareness of the spiritual responsibility we have,” he stressed. “What we need to do in our society is become aware and understand that there is a spiritual connection towards helping the most marginalized.”
It’s also meant to uplift the homeless.
“When they see this piece, they can realize that the son of man looked a lot like them,” he said. “They can feel like they’re sacred, which all human beings are.”
Schmalz presented Pope Francis the original five-foot model of the sculpture last year. Francis, who has shined a spotlight on the poor, praised and blessed the artwork.