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Pope Francis to see ‘Homeless Jesus’ sculpture during US visit

The 'Homeless Jesus' bronze sculpture that sits in front of a Washington building occupied by Catholic Charities (CNS)

When Pope Francis approaches the Catholic Charities building in downtown Washington during his US visit in September, he will see ‘Homeless Jesus’, a bronze sculpture positioned on a bench.

“I hope Pope Francis blesses our ‘Homeless Jesus’ when he’s here,” said Roland Woody, a Washington resident who was homeless until earlier this year. “It’s kind of a symbol of hope for the homeless in DC. If the Pope blesses it, it will be even more special.”

If the Pope does bless the seven-foot-long statue, it will be the second artwork of its kind that he’ll have done this for.

Pope Francis blessed a smaller version of the ‘Homeless Jesus’ sculpture during a late November, 2013, general audience at the Vatican in front of thousands of pilgrims.

Afterward, the Pope told the sculptor, Timothy Schmalz of Toronto, that he thought it was a “beautiful piece of art” and a wonderful representation of Jesus.

Schmalz also created the ‘Homeless Jesus’ statue in Washington, as well as similar sculptures in place in Toronto and several US cities that include Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.

The arrival of ‘Homeless Jesus’ in Washington came last winter after Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl witnessed the Pope’s 2013 blessing of the smaller such statue, said Mgr John Enzler, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Washington Archdiocese.

“It’s deceiving when you first look at it, because it looks like a homeless person wrapped in a blanket laying on a park bench,” Mgr Enzler told Catholic News Service during a recent Catholic Charities-sponsored dinner for the homeless, held just a few steps from the statue.

“When you get up closer you realise it’s a sculpture,” he said.

On more than one occasion, a homeless person has approached the priest and told him they could tell it was a statue of Jesus, because of the holes in the feet.

“They recognise it right away,” Mgr Enzler said. “It’s very special.”

Such reaction is what Schmalz envisioned when he began working on his first ‘Homeless Jesus’ sculpture in 2011.

Viewers are forced to take a second look at the sculpture of a human wrapped in a blanket, face covered, with only the feet exposed, to recognise that it’s actually depicting Jesus, Schmalz said.

“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 said in 2013. “They will have that moment of reflection.”

Mgr Enzler said Washington’s ‘Homeless Jesus’ has inspired some to have a more compassionate view of the homeless and has provided the poor with a little dignity.

“People who are homeless here say, ‘That’s our monument, that’s our Vietnam Memorial. That’s our Lincoln Memorial. That’s our place,'” he said. “They love it. They’ll come by and they’ll touch it. They’ll say a prayer by it.”

Pope Francis will visit the US and Cuba from September 19 to 27. During his time in the US, as well as spending time in Washington DC, the Pope will also visit Philadelphia and New York.