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Arts & Culture

'Homeless Jesus': Thought-provoking? Or controversial?

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

A piece of artwork, rejected by some cities, has been installed at Cathedral Park in downtown Buffalo. St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral purchased the 'Homeless Jesus' bronze statue. As WBFO's Eileen Buckley reports, the unveiling sparked a buzz among some citizens.

Onlookers gathered at the busy corner of Church and Main streets Tuesday waiting to see what was under a white sheet. Leaders and members of the Episcopal Cathedral gathered for the official unveiling ceremony revealing the new artwork mounted to a park bench.

"The actual five foot model of the sculpture was blessed by Pope Francis, so I've got him on my side here," said Timothy Schumalz, Canadian Sculptor.

The church commissioned Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz to create a copy of the homeless Jesus for Buffalo.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Unveiling Homeless Jesus in Cathedral Park.

"It's an eternal reminder of some of the most fundamental ideas of Christianity. That is when we see some of the most marginalized people in our community we should see Jesus," said Schmalz. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz.

The statue has been rejected in some places, included St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan and St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto as well as in London. Some do not believe it a homeless image is appropriate in portraying Jesus.

However, Schmalz says Pope Francis approves of it.

"The actual five foot model of the sculpture was blessed by Pope Francis," said Schmalz. "So I've got him on my side here."

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
St. Paul's interim dean the Very Reverend Will Mebane.

The church said the statue is a gift to Buffalo to remind its citizens about  homelessness and poverty.   St. Paul's interim dean the Very Reverend Will Mebane said they wanted a thought-provoking piece to place in front of their church.

"Some people will say why are you encouraging homeless? But we are not encouraging homeless. We are simply recognizing that the homeless are among us," said Rev. Mebane.       
The church paid $33,000 for the statue through donations to the church by supporters. But not everyone from the church approves. Michael Bonilla is a senior warden of the Cathedral parish. 

"We've already had controversy within the parish. There are some who are totally opposed to it. One particular person said Jesus not homeless," said Bonilla. "If you read the scripture, Jesus did not have a home."

Still for some this statue has already had  a powerful effect. One woman showed up with a photo of St. Theresa. Two other woman from the southtowns brought new socks and lunches to hand out to any homeless who might show up near the statue. 

Nadine Miller is from Hamburg and Sarah Fannan is from Orchard Park.

"Like the artist was saying he was quoting out of Matthew 25 where it says if I'm hungry will you feed me," said Miller. "I think that's what the statue symbolizes."  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Sarah Fannan & Nadine Miller came to help the homeless inspired by the statute.

"She made four lunches and we're passing out socks. I said if we just help four people and touch their lives, we've touch a lot of people," said Fannan.

A family from Virginia also stopped by to see the statue. John Setlik is a native of Buffalo. 

"It's kind of difficult for me to get upset or offended by this, because I think the message that it's sending is a beautiful message," Setlik said.   

Three of Setlik's children also had some very thoughtful comments about the statue.

"It's a really nice piece of artwork and makes people think about the challenges Jesus puts us through to take care of each other," one said.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Homeless Jesus.

"I think it is a cool piece of artwork and I think it makes people stop and think about what they should do about people in need. And I like the contemporary angle and the message that it gives."

Homeless Jesus does have somewhat of an eerie look to it. A thin body, laying down, covered under a blanket -- with no face visible, but the bare feet depicting the wounds from the crucifixion.   

Some say it was most appropriate that it was unveiled during the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Feet of statue of Homeless Jesus depict crucifixion wounds.