CHICAGO — A sculpture that depicts Jesus as a homeless man is coming to Chicago this spring.
In "Jesus the Homeless," created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, Jesus sleeps wrapped in a blanket on a park bench. His face is covered, but puncture wounds on his feet are a nod to the crucifixion.
The statue made its U.S. debut in an upscale neighborhood in Davidson, N.C., earlier this year to mixed reactions, Schamlz said. Some loved it, while one woman called the police because she thought it was a real homeless person.
Catholic Charities of Chicago plans to unveil a copy of the statue somewhere in the Chicago area once the ground thaws this spring, a spokeswoman said.
The charity group, which operates in Cook and Lake counties, could place its "Jesus the Homeless" statue in a public park or near its River North offices, 721 N. LaSalle St., according to Schmalz's business manager, Tony Frye.
Catholic Charities would not comment Monday on where the statue will be installed. The group plans to release an announcement in coming weeks.
Schamlz said he hopes his sculpture will challenge people.
"If you read the gospel, Jesus wasn't hanging around with the wealthy, the politicians," Schamlz said. "He was hanging out with the marginalized."
Schamlz is a devout Catholic who's crafted Christian sculpture for more than 25 years. He said he was inspired to make "Jesus the Homeless" while walking through Toronto before Christmas a few years ago.
The artist, who lives in Ontario, said he "was shocked" to see a homeless man sleeping in the middle of a busy downtown street. People walking by didn't seem to notice the man.
"After you live in the big city for a while, homelessness just becomes part of the natural landscape," Schamlz said.
He called his statue "a visual translation" of the 25th book of the Gospel of Matthew. In it, Jesus tells his followers: "As you did it to the one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me."
The artist said he expected backlash.
"There's been this blind spot in representation of Jesus in artwork," he said. "There's only one Jesus out there, and that's the perfect Jesus — this perfect person in physical form.
"My sculpture is not some sugar-cream version of Jesus. It's as raw and powerful as the gospel itself." Schamlz said. "Who knows what Jesus looked like? He probably didn't look like Brad Pitt."