20 May 2015

Dealing with real first-world problems in
the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral

‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (Luke 9: 58) … Homeless Jesus in the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

On my way into Christ Church Cathedral for a cathedral board meeting late yesterday [19 May 2015], I encountered a number of “first-world problems.”

My Luas card had run out of credit, and I had to miss a train as I topped up. Then lightning struck the rail lines in a thunder storm, and after waiting for a while I eventually decided to walk from Ranelagh to the cathedral. The delay meant there was no time to collect the double espresso I was now craving needly. And, by the time I reached Dame Street, the skies had opened again and I was thoroughly soaked.

But, of course, these were “first-world problems.”

But I was reminded of some real pressing “first-world problems” in the grounds of the cathedral after the board meeting.

I have been away from the cathedral for the last few weekends because of other commitments, and this was the first time for me to see the new Homeless Jesus sculpture which was unveiled in the grounds of the cathedral at the beginning of the month.

This sculpture is the is the work of the Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz. It is a 7ft cast bronze park bench, depicting Christ hidden beneath blankets, his identity revealed only in the nail-holes in his feet.

The sculpture was designed to prompt public reflection on the plight of homeless people in the city – a true “first-world problem.” It has been presented the cathedral by an anonymous North American Episcopalian donor.

A competition for the most appropriate location for this Homeless Jesus was launched by The Irish Times last December when readers were asked to nominate their preferences. The readers voted for it to be placed on Molesworth Street or on the plinth at Leinster House, near where Jonathan Corrie, a homeless man, died last year.

However, Mr Schmalz, who is a devout Roman Catholic, visited locations during a visit to Dublin at the beginning of the year and decided on Christ Church Cathedral because “it is the spiritual heart of Dublin.”

The Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, has described the statue as testimony to those who maintained a capacity for life “in the midst of danger, distress, degradation and deprivation.”

Speaking at the unveiling, he said Dublin was chastened by its presence. “The scandalous fact is that the relentlessness of homelessness and the statistics of individual homeless people in Dublin in 2015 still merit such a sculpture as a reminder and a memorial.”

He said that Gospel speaks of Christ saying: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

“Throughout the world of today human beings are subjected to indignity, homelessness, trafficking and death simply for being alive and getting under the ideological skin of their oppressors. Every day for them is a Good Friday. They wait for the Day of Resurrection in hope and in fear, in trust and in betrayal, in darkness and in light. Homeless people draw us into their world – and rightly; we dare not abandon them here or abroad. The 21st century is not yet an improvement on the 20th century. The Homeless Jesus is a reminder of their plight and terror, whatever their nationality or creed – and an icon of solidarity with them. Evil and exclusion make few distinctions of subtlety as they sweep forward in giddy destructiveness,” Archbishop Jackson said.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, invoked the memory of Jonathan Corrie: “As long as there are people who cannot find a suitable roof over their head and families without a place where they can live with dignity, then none of us can roll over in our comfortable beds with an easy conscience.”

“This image of The Homeless Jesus is a reminder to the entire community of this city – Catholics and Protestants, people of faith and people of none – that as long as there are people who cannot find a suitable roof over their head and families without a place where they can live with dignity, then none of us can roll over in our comfortable beds with an easy conscience. Conscience, public opinion and political commitment must be kept alert every day and never settle back into thinking we have done enough,” he said.

Casts of the Homeless Jesus sculpture have been installed in cities in North America, Canada and Europe, and the Homeless Jesus in Rome has been blessed by the Pope.

Tim Schmalz is a devout Roman Catholic. “I am delighted that the sculpture is going in the spiritual heart of Dublin, which is Christ Church,” he says. “When I met the Dean, I saw in his eyes instantly that he was just delighted to have the sculpture at Christ Church. He talked about the sculpture with a deep powerfulness. And when you start talking about the deepest ideas about spirituality, it’s contagious.”

“I think the statue is absolutely beautiful. It goes beyond religion,” the Dean of Christ Church, the Very Rev Dermot Dunne, said at the unveiling. Recently he slept rough to highlight the plight of the homeless. “We are in the centre of the city, where I’m seeing homelessness all the time, and it’s getting worse.”

Yes, things are getting worse. And the thought of that as a first-world problem left me with little to complain about on my way home in the rain after the cathedral bard meeting.


Unknown said...

Hi Patrick, I am a prison chaplain and would like to use your image of the homeless Jesus and part of your reflection on it in a prison Eucharist. Can I have your permission? Cheers

Patrick Comerford said...

Of course Philip.

If you click on the image you will get a full-screen resolution. If you reprint the photograph in any service sheets or bulletins I just ask that you name me as the photographer.

Thank you for asking,