Bringing 'Homeless Jesus' to London

'Homeless Jesus' at Regis College, Toronto
'Homeless Jesus' at Regis College, Toronto

Methodist Central Hall in Westminster is applying to install one of the celebrated sculptures of the ‘Homeless Jesus’ by the internationally renowned artist Tim Schmalz. An original cast of the statue which depicts Christ lying anonymously in a blanket on a park bench is exhibited at the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto and Pope Francis himself has already blessed the work of art in the Vatican. If the application is successful, the sculpture at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster will be the only 'Homeless Jesus' in the UK. 

Schmalz began working on his first ‘Homeless Jesus’ sculpture in 2011; it is also known as ‘Jesus the Homeless’. The first casts were offered to St Michael's Cathedral in Toronto and St Patrick's Cathedral in New York, but both churches turned them down. The cast intended for St Michael's was installed instead at Regis College, the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto. In the USA, an anonymous alumnus of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law donated funds for the statue to be bought for the church, placing it just across from the Renaissance Center towers. The School of Law is sponsored by the Jesuits and the Sisters of Mercy and adjoins the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which is served by the Jesuits. Fr Gary Wright SJ of SS Peter and Paul says ‘Homeless Jesus’ honours and may comfort the homeless people whom the church serves.

Reaching out to the marginalisedPope Francis blesses the 'Homeless Jesus' in the Vatican

The figure of the homeless person on a park bench is completely covered except for the feet on which the marks of the crucifixion are visible. Pope Francis blessed a copy of the statue when the sculptor presented him with one in St Peter’s Square in November 2013. Schalz said he was deeply moved by the Pontiff’s reaction to his work. “He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the 'Jesus the Homeless' sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed,” he says. “It was like, that’s what he’s doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalised.” The City of Rome gave permission last year for a ‘Homeless Jesus’ statue to be installed at the start of Via della Conciliazione, the street that leads up to St Peter’s Basilica.

“We believe that having the ‘Homeless Jesus’ amongst the great iconic buildings of Parliament Square, within ear shot of Big Ben, will make an important visual statement about the heart that Jesus has for the poor and marginalised,” says Rev Tony Miles of the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. “There is a space to sit on the bench, right by his pierced feet; this is a most powerful personal experience. Also set in an area where there are many homeless people, this identifies with them.”

A moment of reflection

However, the installation will require planning permission from Westminster City Council and the Methodist Church is appealing for support to ensure its success. “You do not need to be a resident of Westminster to register your support,” explains Rev Miles. “Indeed the wider the scope of support shown to Westminster City Council, the greater chance we have of obtaining planning permission.”

People who see the statue of ‘Homeless Jesus’ have varying reactions, with some initially thinking it is a living person lying on a park bench, according to Tim Schmalz. Others take a second look at the sculpture of a man wrapped in a blanket, face covered, with only the feet exposed, to recognise that it is actually depicting Jesus. “I can imagine some people walking on a city street, walking by thinking it’s another homeless person, and then they’ll realise it’s actually a representation of Jesus,” he says. “They will have that moment of reflection.”

View the planning application and register your support with Westminster City Council for it to be installed at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster here.