Homeless Jesus rejected by two churches

A Toronto artist is trying to find a home for his sculpture of Jesus as a homeless person. The Toronto Star reports:

Jesus has been depicted in art as triumphant, gentle or suffering. Now, in a controversial new sculpture in downtown Toronto, he is shown as homeless — an outcast sleeping on a bench. It takes a moment to see that the slight figure shrouded by a blanket, hauntingly similar to the real homeless who lie on grates and in doorways, is Jesus. It’s the gaping wounds in the feet that reveal the subject, whose face is draped and barely visible, as Jesus the Homeless.

Despite message of the sculpture — Jesus identifying with the poorest among us — it was rejected by two prominent Catholic churches, St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.
The Toronto archdiocese tried to help him find an alternative location, including St. Augustine’s Seminary in Scarborough. But Schmalz, who describes his work as a visual prayer, wanted to reach a wider, secular audience. “I wanted not only the converted to see it, but also the marginalized. I almost gave up trying to find a place.”

Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice.

Read more here.

What would you do if an artist presented your church with this sculpture?

Comments (12)

From the article in The Star "Now the sculpture stands near Wellesley St. W., outside Regis College at the University of Toronto. It’s a Jesuit school of theology, where priests and lay people are trained, with an emphasis on social justice."

Couldn't help but make a connection with the new Pope, also a Jesuit, and his emphasis on the poor.

Art and architecture are such vital mediums for conveying spirituality, especially in the church where text tends to dominate, and where the digital word is all the rage. Being an artist is a true vocation. Great story!

It might be a little too subtle - it might just as well be a depiction of Christ's shrouded body awaiting burial as a homeless person. Maybe if the bench had a back to it...

Bill Dilworth

Bill, if you listen to the video, the artist says the piece will be on a bronze "New York Style" park bench. Besides, better not to "textualize" the visual perhaps?

The question I believe should be asked is what would you do if your church was presented with a work of art? (And probably had some expectation of where it would be displayed.)

Your church's policy shouldn't be "well, we just couldn't say no."

To me, this artist could have made it known that he was donating the sculpture, would take proposals and accept his preferred proposal. Instead he offered and then made known the rejections. A stunt that is part of his performance art?

Re, John, good for the artist for making known the work was rejected. The rejections, in this case, go to the nature of the work itself which is Christ in solidarity with the homeless. Looks like a case of "no room in the inn".


How to witness it is through the eyes of depression,
cataracted at rainy twilight in Herald Square.
On every corner there are the faces of men
parrying for another day the Shelter and starvation,
dressed in day-glo tabards advertising the fantasies
of midtown clubs and the unmade, unkeepable promises
of dancing girls who twirl one step beyond
nightly tricks and the red light district
where the Pharisees of Civic Virtue have dimmed the bulbs.

In the beholder's eye there is aesthetics:
of how little has changed in these faces,
that they are Art, the Eternal: but
the specific is the screwball pageant
of Ensor's "Entry of Christ into Brussels,"
Jesus a distant figure, barely glimpsed,
wholly ignored, while in the foreground the faces
of their world bubble in rage, on holiday in a spook-dance.
Mothers scream in Spanish at tired children,
men wear "I've got AIDS" signs round their necks
like Miraculous Medals, and every face
summons rage in the beholder who sees perhaps himself,
his own swirling grief held back by the floral tie
that is his only sign of nascent spring.

Jesus Christ, age 29, flops on a park bench
before Horace Greeley's grim seated statue, obscured
by a anomalous untrimmed tree. He's
finished off the muscatel, eyes a woman
in the distance who one time might have sucked his cock
in a doorway 'til he grew too funky to endure.
A little child passes, screams “Mamacita,
mira! Jesus! Jesus el boracho!” and laughing points
at his filthy long hair, his tarnished crucifix,
the last thing he might sell but hasn't yet,
for Mickey D's and a pint of vodka.
"Bless you, little girl," Jesus slobbers, signs her,
staggers to his feet, disappears into the rush-hour crowd
to find this night's place in the subway station
where he'll sleep, undisturbed.


Insofar as Our Lord didn't make an issue out of His "homelessness," I'd do nothing at all with a work of "art" which drags Jesus into contemporary leftist politics.

Re Christopher Johnson, T.O. is a good locale for the sculpture. During the winter months there is usually a drive there to get homeless people off the street so they don't freeze to death. There was also a concerted effort not have them too visible during the G8 meeting. It's also the home of Canada's corporate elite.

Another good location for the sculpture would have been the Canadian Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue. Last time I was there, the homeless were using the Embassy grounds and pool.

As for Our lord not making an issue of his homelessness, I'm kind of partial to Luke 9:58.

Surely, if the Church of England can offer one of its premiere Wren monuments as a venue for the 1% crowd who will attend the Thatcher obsequies , a modest work like the Homeless Christ is an appropriate counter measure. Interesting though, the poor suffer the indignity of being defined by others, in this case being defined as mere objects of some imagined "left". And here I was thinking theirs was the Commonwealth of God.

The church, it would seem, can always use the ministry of the dirty little Franciscan who ambles in and demands the church tone down its worldly pretensions.

Rod, thanks for clearing up the bench thing - that does clear up the ambiguity.

According to the Toronto Star, the rectors of the two cathedrals (do RC's use the term "dean"?) wanted the statue, but folks higher up in the chain of command nixed it.

I agree with John that parish leadership shouldn't feel obliged to accept a work of art simply because it's offered. There are all sorts of reasons why a given piece of art might be a bad fit for a particular church, and it seems to me that tying rejection of the art to a rejection of its "message" is akin to emotional blackmail. Not wanting this particular statue in your parish no more means you reject Christ's presence in the "least of these" than not wanting a particular crucifix means you reject the Atonement. It's a statue, after all, not the real thing.

Bill Dilworth

Hi Bill, in think the R.C.s use "rector" of the Cathedral rather than "dean".

I agree that churches should not have to accept works of art, sculptures, windows, paintings, furnishings simply because they are offered. There may be all kinds of reasons why acceptance is problematic.

What interested me in this particular case are the reasons, cited in the T.O. Star, for not accepting this sculpture,

“It was very upsetting because the rectors liked it, but when it got to the administration, people thought it might be too controversial or vague,” he says. He was told “it was not an appropriate image.”

Here questions of controversy or appropriateness of the image are cited, and they appear to go to the subject matter itself, the connecting of Christ to the plight of the homeless in, what is for them, the modern urban wilderness. I'm taken with the wounds/stigmata on the feet of Christ in the piece. Many of the homeless in our cities are young people fleeing domestic abuse, veterans with PTSD, and people with mental illness who can't get proper medical care ( the latter a big problem in Canada and the U.S. both).

I find it interesting as well, the almost immediate shift in the conversation from the theme of the art to a discussion about the right of churches to decide what gifts to accept.

So I return to the point about Cathedrals being used as venues for the rites of passage for the wealthy, the powerful, in such instances questions of controversy and an "appropriateness" are muted.


"I find it interesting as well, the almost immediate shift in the conversation from the theme of the art to a discussion about the right of churches to decide what gifts to accept."

To be fair, Rod, the subject of the thread - or at least the question at the top of it - was not about the theme of the art, but what we would do if our parishes were presented with it; the right of congregations to accept gifts of art or not is surely part of that.

Bill Dilworth

I know Bill, but the article is titled, "Homeless Jesus rejected by two Churches".

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