RIVER NORTH — "Jesus the Homeless" came to Chicago Monday, humbly and with little fanfare.
The life-size bronze sculpture, a copy of a work by Timothy Schmalz, was installed in front of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago at 721 N. LaSalle St. It depicts Christ as a homeless man asleep on a park bench.
Catholic Charities President Michael Boland called the artwork "thought-provoking," adding, "At first, you may think it is an actual person on a bench, and as you get closer you realize, by the nail holes in the feet, that it is Jesus.
"It can be an uncomfortable realization," Boland said. "It’s a reminder that those whom we often view as on the margins of society are among us and deserve our care and help, just as Jesus cared for the least among us."
In honor of Cardinal Francis George's 50 years as a priest, the sculpture will be officially dedicated later this spring. Although there was little pedestrian traffic Monday morning on that stretch of LaSalle Street in the chill and rain, "Jesus the Homeless" prompted MaryAlice Robertson, a Catholic Charities worker, to pause.
"I've seen the construction going on, but I never knew what it was going to be," Robertson said. She said the sculpture served as a reminder to remember the homeless and the less-fortunate as Christ might have.
Another sculpture of a beggar with face hidden makes the same basic point in front of the office building.
The original "Jesus the Homeless" sculpture is located in North Carolina, where it has drawn mixed reactions. Canadian sculptor Schmalz, a devout Catholic, has defended it by saying, "If you read the Gospel, Jesus wasn't hanging around with the wealthy, the politicians. He was hanging out with the marginalized."
“Every day Catholic Charities opens its doors to those whom many of us may just walk by," Boland said. "It is my hope that this sculpture will cause people to pause and to pray for those most in need."