Washington D.C., Mar 4, 2015 / 04:18 am
A statue of "Homeless Jesus" now sits just outside Catholic Charities in downtown Washington, D.C., with the organization's president hoping it will spur passers-by to service.
"My hope is it would just remind us all that there's a population out there that needs our help and assistance, and that we meet Jesus in them. We meet Jesus in those in need," said the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Monsignor John Enzler.
The statue was sculpted by Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz. Pope Francis blessed a small model of the statue back in November 2013.
"Homeless Jesus" is based on the "Judgment of the Nations" scene from Matthew 25 and signifies Christ in "the most marginalized in our society," according to Schmalz's website.
In the Scripture passage, the nations receive eternal salvation or punishment based on their fulfillment of the works of mercy – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and welcoming the stranger. "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me," Jesus says.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington offers over 60 ministerial programs and serves around 120,000 people a year.
The statue's reception in D.C. has been overwhelmingly positive, Msgr. Enzler said, and is a monument of sorts in a city filled with monuments.
"The homeless people, they love it," he told CNA. "I think it's becoming for some people their realization that they are recognized."
The statue is life-size, and to a pedestrian it appears as just another blanketed figure lying on a street bench. The wounds in the bare feet are the only giveaway that it is Jesus and not an anonymous person.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington was the indirect cause behind the statue's placement in D.C. His spokesman called Catholic Charities and pitched the statue to them after the cardinal saw a model of it blessed by Pope Francis in Rome.
Cardinal Wuerl blessed the statue on Ash Wednesday before the charity's weekly homeless dinner, shortly after he had returned from Rome. He has attended the dinner multiple times, according to Msgr. Enzler.
He "spoke about the importance of recognizing these are members of the body of Christ in need," Msgr. Enzler said.
A significant part of the ministry of Catholic Charities, D.C. is to the city's homeless population. Aside from ministries for mental health, addiction, food and clothing, the organization provides shelter – about 2300 beds per night during "hypothermia season," which is any night with temperatures predicted below 32 degrees and an emergency alert sent out by the city.
The city government is actually "very good" to the homeless, but the "conditions" in D.C. shelters are "less than ideal," Msgr. Enzler said.
He hopes the statue will serve as "branding" for the service Catholic Charities provides to the homeless, "a specific reminder that we are about the homeless, the poor, the vulnerable."