Homeless Jesus sculpture finds homes around the world

After being refused by two churches in New York and Toronto, St. Jacobs artist Tim Schmalz's sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man is finding homes around the world.

Sculptor Tim Schmalz is casting his sculpture for cities around the world

Pope Francis blesses Tim Schmalz's sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man in November, 2013. (Vatican handout)

St. Jacobs artist Tim Schmalz made headlines last year when two Catholic churches in Toronto and New York refused to allow his sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man sleeping on a bench to be placed outside their sanctuaries.

The work shows Jesus huddled under a blanket on a bench, with only the gashes on his feet signalling who he is. 

One of the sculptures ended up at Regis College at the University of Toronto instead, while another went to Davidson, North Carolina.

Now, Schmalz is working on a project to place the sculpture in 12 major cities outside North America, and is busy at his studio in St. Jacobs, Ont. making bronze casts to send across North America.

He's even gotten the attention of one of the most powerful churches in the world - The Vatican. 

"A couple of important people in the Catholic world in the United States and Canada wrote letters to the Vatican suggesting that Pope Francis actually bless the model for this sculpture," said Schmalz, in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition on Thursday. 

So in November last year, Schmalz went to the Vatican with his sculpture to see Pope Francis. The pope prayed with the statue and blessed it in St. Peter's Square. 

Schmalz is now working on a getting a cast of the original placed there permanently. 

"There was interest with some of the top of people in the Vatican to place this sculpture at the base of the avenue that leads up to St. Peter's [Basilica]," he said."It's one of the most amazing locations for this sculpture."

When asked if how it felt to have the validation of the Vatican after having his statue refused by other Catholic churches, Schmalz said, "For me, I feel like I'm fulfilling my job as a Christian sculptor by creating this."

Statue inspired by Toronto man

About 3 years ago Schmalz was in Toronto and saw a homeless man who sparked his idea for the project. 

"I saw this homeless man, and it was just a human form wrapped up in a blanket. And I thought, 'That is Jesus.' And I was so moved spiritually by thinking about this sensitive human being that is looking like a lump on the street," said Schmalz. 

"Really, it's a visual translation of Matthew 25, where Jesus says that whenever you see the most marginalized, broken people in our society, we should think of him," said Schmalz. "In the whole history of Catholic artwork, it's not usually represented like this." 

Here in the region, St. Michael's Church on University Avenue in Waterloo will be getting a homeless Jesus sculpture, which Schmalz hopes to have in place by Easter. 

The city of Washington, D.C. recently approved a request from the archdiocese there to place a homeless Jesus sculpture downtown near the sports dome. That's in addition to sculptures already in Chicago and Davidson, North Carolina, with others destined for Arizona and Buffalo, New York. Outside of North America, Schmalz is working on finding a location for a sculpture in London, U.K.