After being denied a "home" in London, Timothy Schmalz's Homeless Jesus was finally formally blessed in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street in London.
The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Edward Adams, celebrated Mass and conducted the blessing for the sculpture, the latest representation of a work that is already installed in Dublin, Glasgow, Rome, Capernium, Madrid, Milan and elsewhere.
Unusually, London's Homeless Jesus is not on an outdoor bench but inside the London's central Jesuit church, after Westminster City Council refused permission for one to be installed outside Westminster Central Hall near the Houses of Parliament.
In a message read out by parish priest Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, the sculptor Timothy Schmalz said: "The Homeless Jesus in London spent years trying to find a place to lay his head.
"The same streets that were closed to him are open to statues of politicians, abstract art and visual puns continually planted in the urban setting of your city, but this work that challenges us to see the holy in the least in our community was not allowed outside. You brought him inside. You welcomed him, giving him a beautiful permanent spot in the centre of the city. May this sculpture become a symbol of how we all should let the stranger and the least in our community inside our hearts."
Schmalz, unable to be present because of illness in his family, continued: "My heart, the work of my hands, and all of my spirit are forever mixed with the bronze that created this sculpture."
Fr Dominic said: "The Homeless Jesus statue can be found in cities throughout the world, and we are honoured to provide a space for it within our walls. The statue is a reminder that we are called to see the face of Jesus in all people, especially the impoverished. London is home to many people who find themselves forced to live on the streets. Farm Street Church, like many other organisations, both religious and secular, is committed to doing what it can to alleviate their suffering."
The groups based at Farm Street involved in this work include the parish chapter of St Vincent de Paul, from which a group of volunteers every week distribute food, clothes and other necessities to rough sleepers in central London. There is also a second group at Farm Street of volunteers for the night shelter programme, run in collaboration with the West London Day Centre and other places of worship. The programme provides a hot meal and accommodation for up to 15 people once a week for four months of the year.
The issue of homelessness is at the heart of much of the work done by the Jesuit Refugee Service, based in east London. Sarah Teather, director, said in a talk at the end of the Farm Street mass that many refugees in this country found themselves destitute and homeless, unable to work or claim benefits. This has a "huge impact" on their self-esteem and their physical and mental health.
Fr Dominic told The Tablet: "It is a wonderful joy that after a few years of planning to bring homeless Jesus to London, we are able to give him a home. Homeless Jesus is now here in the middle of our city of great contradictions."
The Homeless Jesus is in the side chapel of Our Lady of the Seven Dolours at Farm Street.
Fr Dominic added: "It is fitting that Homeless Jesus should be inside the church and alongside his mother. He lies on the bench watched over by his mother, who shares in the suffering of her son. So we are invited to share in her suffering and especially in her compassion for those who suffer, and to recognise her son in those who suffer and those who are weakest in society."