Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz is the creator of the lifesize bronze Homeless Jesus Bench Sculpture using the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 25 as his inspiration. It is a representation that suggests Christ is with the most marginalized of our society. The Christ figure is shrouded in a blanket with the only indication that it’s Jesus being the visible wounds on the feet. The original statue sits in front of Regis College in Toronto and was placed there in 2013. Since 2013 the statue has been recreated and placed in front of 25-30 different churches all around the world as a sign of Christ’s humanity and connection to the most vulnerable.
In 2016 and 2017 Roman Catholic and Protestant churches from Hamilton came together in a two-week prayer vigil at the statue of the Homeless Jesus that sits in front of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, in downtown Hamilton. The purpose of this vigil was to bring awareness to the homeless and marginalized people of Hamilton and all those struggling throughout our world. It was also to bring Christians from all denominations together to pray in solidarity for all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Organized by GOHOP and people from Catholic and Anglican churches, the prayer vigil again took place in 2019 from May 3 to May 16. Over 20 churches, parishes and organisations participated and many prayers were prayed for the homeless, the refugees and the vulnerable population in Hamilton. One of the poignant moments was that we were saddened to hear of Jean Vanier’s death during the prayer vigil. Numerous quotes from him were added to the prayer guide that was available at the Homeless Jesus Sculpture and touches many as they integrated them into the prayers.
“The weak and the poor are for us a source of unity. Jesus came into the world to change and transform society from a “pyramid” in which the strong and clever dominate at the top, into a “body”, where each member of society has a place, is respected and is important.”
― Jean Vanier, Befriending the Stranger
“People who are experiencing poverty seem to break down the barriers of powerfulness, of wealth, of ability and of pride; they pierce the armour the human heart builds to protect itself; they reveal Jesus Christ. They reveal to those who have come to 'help' them their own poverty and vulnerability. These people also show their 'helpers' their capacity for love, the forces of love in their hearts. A poor person has a mysterious power: in his weakness he is able to open hardened hearts and reveal the sources of living water within them. It is the tiny hand of the fearless child which can slip through the bars of the prison of egoism. He is the one who can open the lock and set free. And God hides himself in the child.”
― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
May God continue to soften our hearts to reach out do what we can to make Hamilton a better place for all to live.
Here are a few brief testimonies of those who participated:
“ It was really good for me to be there at Homeless Jesus. It was very calm I walked around the church praying . I felt peace and I know God was there. It was raining, but it was good. May God bless you for the vision.”
“I arrived to pray at St. Patrick's early in the morning. As I was leaving to go and pray the rain had just ended and the sun looked as though it was coming out. It was warm and humid.
“I hadn't been praying long when the temperature dropped, the wind picked up and the sky grew dark again. In short time I was shivering and about to reach for my coat when it occurred to me: I have a coat and I can leave at any moment to buy food and find a warm place for shelter. The ones I am praying for don't have that luxury. I felt compelled to resist the urge to run from Jesus and run from this discomfort, which was growing by the minute. And so I shivered and prayed intermittently for nearly 2 hours. Though I know this prayer event isn't about me, as I left, I still felt strangely blessed.”
“I was struck by how sitting in one corner of the busy city for a couple hours opened my eyes to see all sorts of things that I otherwise would not: the diversity of cultures and ethnicity represented among those who passed by; the bus schedules; the conversations overheard; the cyclists and pedestrians and drivers. I felt a new bond with the city as I sat and prayed for the most vulnerable in Hamilton.”
”As I was sitting on the bench with Jesus a man in white appeared beside me. It was not Jesus, but Father Tony from St. Patrick’s who had come by to say hello before the Sunday morning mass. He shared briefly about the many practical things that St. Patrick’s does to help the poor. He asked for ongoing prayer for the poor and for humility for all those, including himself, who try to serve the poor and vulnerable.”
“During my time with Homeless Jesus, a man struck up a conversation with me, mostly about nothing of importance (the weather, living in Hamilton, etc). When I told him I was praying for people who are homeless, he told me that I was actually praying for him. As someone who sometimes tends to overvalue what is tangible and concrete, this conversation felt like a gift reminding me that prayer matters too. “
“I experienced a sense of gratitude for this annual prayer time. As I sat in unseasonally cold and rainy weather that morning, during rush hour traffic, I was so thankful for the opportunity to be completely countercultual to all the business and noise around me. That time in quietness and contemplation allowed me to notice the little things in our city. The pigeons scavenging for food, the seasoned weathered man nursing his Tim Hortons coffee while waiting for the bus, the line gathering outside St. Patrick's for a meal, a lady struggling from addictions and poverty on the corner. All these lives and stories unseen and unnoticed by most in the hustle and bustle of the day. It was a beautiful contemplative time to pray and see the divine in all things.”
”On Monday, it was another cold, wet day. I thank God it was just a light drizzle. Not a day to be sitting outside. Across the road by the bus stop, there was this woman sitting in the entrance way of a building. I guess she was sheltering from the rain. I decided to go over and talk to her. So I asked her if she was homeless. She said no. I was making conversation and asked where she lived etc. She did not want to tell me. She said she was watching me, standing there. She thought I was crazy or as she put it mental. I don't want what you got, go away. So I left. I didn't think I was threatening, but she thought so.”
“There was another person who was passing by. I asked if I could pray for her. She said she had a stroke two years ago. Her left arm was not functioning very well. So I prayed for her. She was touched.”
”Most days the weather has been quite poorly, wet and cold. especially when I was out there. I really felt it gave me a better understanding of what the homeless go through. I was there for a short while, only two hours, but it seems like a lot more. You do not have much options. I know most homeless, would not be out, but take shelter somewhere or the other. All the same it gives you a sense of walking in their shoes.”
I found it again to be a refreshing time to sit with Jesus and see what He sees. Just sitting, reading the prayer guide and praying helped me to become aware of the tremendous needs in our city. I also rejoiced at the good work St. Pat's is doing as I watched people come with bag lunches they received. I .was glad we do this and feel it is an important touch point for us to be with the poor and with Jesus at the same time.”