After getting turned away from Mount Vernon, “Homeless Jesus” has finally found a home in Baltimore.
William Lori, the Archbishop of Baltimore, announced this week that the Archdiocese of Baltimore will place a bronze casting of a sculpture entitled Homeless Jesus outside of St. Vincent de Paul Church, 120 N. Front Street.
Lori said in a letter to members of the church that an anonymous donor has offered to cover the cost of the sculpture, enabling the project to move ahead without cutting into any other church initiatives. His letter was read to the congregation on the occasion of the retirement of Father Richard Lawrence, who stepped down yesterday after over four decades as the church’s pastor.
“Long before the election of Pope Francis, Father Lawrence spoke of accompaniment, and he lived it out daily in his priestly ministry, as seen most publicly by his care for the homeless and hungry of Baltimore,” Lori wrote in his letter. “In his priestly service, he made it a priority to serve others in the image and example of Jesus.
“In recognition of his service, we have chosen to permanently display the sculpture known as Homeless Jesus (which has been donated by an anonymous benefactor) at St. Vincent de Paul Parish,” Lori continued. “This is one way of showing our service for the long and loving service of Father Lawrence and his lifelong commitment to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Once the sculpture is installed, Baltimore will be the latest in a series of cities that have identical sculptures entitled Homeless Jesus by a Canadian artist named Timothy Schmalz.
The life-sized sculptures depict a human figure lying on a park bench. The figure’s face and hands are covered with a blanket, but his feet are visible, and they show signs of wounds, as if from a crucifixion. The implication is that this sleeping figure is the Son of God, and he is homeless.
Schmalz created Homeless Jesus, also known as Jesus the Homeless, in 2013, reportedly after seeing a vagrant lying on a park bench. His sculpture was purchased for $22,000 by St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, North Carolina. Since then, he has sold additional castings of the piece and has been working to create more. So far, at least ten are in place. The closest one to Baltimore is in Washington, D. C. Others can be found in cities ranging from Detroit, Michigan, to the Vatican. They typically cost $20,000 to $35,000, depending on the location and the difficulty of installation.
Schmalz has been working to bring one of his sculptures to Baltimore for more than a year but has been unable to find a location and a donor before a benefactor came to the Archdiocese.
In 2015, members of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association considered a proposal to have Schmalz’s sculpture of Homeless Jesus located on a prominent site on Charles Street, one of the city’s main north-south thoroughfares.
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, at Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place, was proposed as a possible setting for Baltimore’s sculpture of Homeless Jesus, under a proposal submitted to the community association. It’s the same intersection where the Washington Monument was rededicated in 2015 after a $5.5 million restoration. The figure and bench were to be placed near the northeast corner of Charles Street and Mount Vernon Place, in front of the church, just to the left of the main entrance steps, under a plaque designating the birthplace of Francis Scott Key.
The sculpture was being discussed around the same time that the city cleared away an encampment of homeless people living along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, without any warning and without making arrangements to help people find alternate housing or store belongings. The sculpture is not intended as a commentary on any specific act of displacing homeless people, but it is designed to be provocative and make viewers think about the plight of the homeless.
“That’s essentially what the sculpture is there to do,” Schmalz, who is Catholic, explained in a 2014 interview broadcast on National Public Radio. “It’s meant to challenge people.”
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