Jesus the Homeless was turned down by Toronto's St. Michael's Cathedral and New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral.
After two years of looking for a home, an Ontario man's sculpture of a life-sized Jesus sleeping on a park bench finally has a place to rest: the Vatican.
"I created a figure, almost completely wrapped in a sleeping bag, or a thick, old, rough blanket, and the only thing that's visible is his feet with the wounds from being on the Cross," Timothy Schmalz, 44, an artist from St. Jacobs, Ont., told Vatican Radio.
Last Wednesday, Schmalz brought the original 2.5-metre-long wooden model of his Jesus the Homeless sculpture to St. Peter's Square to present it to Pope Francis.
The Pope liked what he saw.
"He named himself Francis," pointed out Schmalz. "St. Francis was a beggar."
After his weekly general audience, Pope Francis prayed over the statue and blessed it.
"It is very, very amazing for a sculptor to have that," Schmalz, a devout Catholic, told the Toronto Star. "After, the Vatican officials introduced me to Pope Francis and he said he thought Jesus the Homeless was a beautiful sculpture. So needless to say, I’m very excited about that."
The wooden model of Jesus the Homeless will stay in one of the Vatican houses. A full-sized bronze version will be placed at an outdoor location near St. Peter's once the city of Rome approves it.
How did an Ontario artist's sculpture even get an audience with the Pope?
After being rejected by a few churches, the sculpture was installed at Regis College, the University of Toronto's Jesuit school of theology.
"It's one of the most inviting and authentic representations of Jesus," Rev. Gordon Rixon, dean of the college, said of the statue. "There’s the suggestion there is the king and he is answering our culture with his poverty, vulnerability and weakness."
"If you go to Rome and go to all the beautiful cathedrals, you will not see a representation (of Jesus) that shows him so close to the marginalized people," Schmalz said. "I'd say it's one of the most important messages of the Gospels."
Schmalz was inspired by a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus shares with his disciples the importance of caring for the downtrodden. In response, the sculptor wanted to create a Jesus that the marginalized could relate to:
"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me," Matthew 25:40 reads.
"If Jesus were an art critic, he would probably prefer my vision of him," Schmalz told the New York Daily News. "Not the perfection, not the Christ on a throne."
"Some people might think that if he's not depicted as beautiful in a very specific way, then we are insulting him, but that’s not true."