According to Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor who has made many statues prominent in churches around the world, including in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, a statue is a “24-hour preacher.” 

“What sculptures do when installed in a permanent spot is preach all the time,” Schmalz said. 

A sculpture depicting Jesus reflecting Matthew, 25:36, “When I was naked, you clothed me,” was installed outside the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 17, the World Day of the Poor. 

The “When I was naked, you clothed me” sculpture is just one of many throughout the world that were installed on Nov. 17. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

The sculpture is joining another statue of homeless Jesus by Schmalz outside of the Catholic Charities headquarters in downtown Washington, which features a figure huddled on a bench. 

“Christ is found in the marginalized in our culture,” Schmalz said, adding that he hopes that more of his statues depicting Jesus will be installed throughout Washington. “You can’t have too many reminders that all human life is sacred.” 

Schmalz’s series based on Matthew 25, depicts homeless Jesus in six different states: hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, a stranger and imprisoned. While the whole series is placed throughout Rome, several individual pieces have been installed throughout the world. 

“Having all (the sculptures) spread apart, connects the pilgrim to ongoing inspiration,” Schmalz said. “You turn the corner and see Jesus in a different way.” 

Having spent the past 30 years as a sculptor, Schmalz said he hopes his art “rejuvenates the eyes to see again.” 

“I believe that in today’s world, we Christians need to use as many weapons as possible to attack the indifference, to pry people off their phones...to address the hardcore roots of Christianity,” he said. “In a culture of bombardment, we’re losing the compass orientation of Christian values.”

Schmalz’s Christian inspiration for his work comes from the challenge Christianity and the comfort of beauty, he said.

Michael Huke, who along with his wife Sandy are the patrons of the statue installed outside the cathedral in Washington, said the statue, “brings another version of Christ, the person of the streets, the person of poverty... in a public space.”

Huke added that the statue, along with much of Schmalz’s work, is a “real wake-up call to the value of a person.” 

Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, rector at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, said that when approached by Schmalz and Huke about installing a statue outside the Cathedral, he was excited. The priest said the “When I was naked” statue offers a visible sign of the cathedral’s homeless ministry, which provides a hot breakfast and toiletries to about 80 people in need each week.  

“In this area, we have a lot of homeless people,” Msgr. Jameson said. “...One of the major thrusts here at the parish is an awareness of Matthew 25, when Jesus talks about when He was hungry (and) thirsty.” 

Caring for the homeless is a major part of the cathedral’s social justice ministry, he added. 

“We want people to be aware that when we give to the poor, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, we are doing so to Jesus. Not just for the sake of doing it, but doing something to the person of Jesus,” Msgr. Jameson said. “That statue represents those in need and the call to answer Matthew 25, and that is extremely important.” 

Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor, has formed many depictions of Christ that have been placed in prominent places and churches throughout the world. (CS photo/Andrew Biraj) 

Most recently, Schmalz’s statue of “Angels Unaware,” which shows migrants on a journey, was installed in Vatican Square and unveiled by Pope Francis on Sept. 29, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. 

Schmalz said he hopes that Washington’s new statue will be an “eternal reminder that (the homeless) companion is Christ, and that he identifies with them more than with the rich.”