Pope Francis blesses Timothy Schmalz's 'Sheltering' statue during Wednesday General Audience Pope Francis blesses Timothy Schmalz's 'Sheltering' statue during Wednesday General Audience 

Timothy Schmalz: 'Sheltering' statue, reminder of our spiritual duty to the poor

In an interview with Vatican News after Pope Francis blessed his 'Sheltering' statue, the sculpture's creator, Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, says it is a call to action and is triggering a concrete campaign.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

A call to action... a work to make the often 'invisible' poor, visible... a sculpture to remind us of 'spiritual duty to the poor.'

In an interview with Vatican News, this was how Timothy Schmalz, renowned Canadian artist and author of the sculpture 'Sheltering,' described his latest work of art as he expressed gratitude to the Holy Father for blessing his statue.

The bronze statue seeks to promote the Vincentian Family's "13 Houses Campaign" to provide material and spiritual help to people suffering from homelessness, as the Church prepares to celebrate the 6th World Day of the Poor.

"It was absolutely moving to see a sculpture that for months, if not a year, has been in my studio, in the darkness of my dingy studio, in a sense, being brought out in the spotlight of Saint Peter's Square and having the attention of Pope Francis bless the sculpture."

The Pope's blessing of the work devoted to bringing attention to the plight of the homeless came at the conclusion of this morning's General Audience, ahead of the World Day of Care for the Poor, which Pope Francis instituted during the Jubilee Year he proclaimed on Mercy. 

Listen to our interview with Timothy Schmalz:

Yet, this work, which he described to us as "a call to action," meant to make "visible," the poor who are "so often invisible," is the latest in a series of sculptures that the Holy Father has blessed in the Vatican, including 'Angels Unawares' that has found its home within the colonnade of St. Peter's Square bringing attention to the plights of refugees.

Sheltering shows 'our spiritual duty to the poor'

"I was working on a human trafficking sculpture, called ‘Let the Oppressed Go Free’ from Isaiah, and was really involved within that text, thinking about it, and the text is it not our 'fast' [duty] to clothe the naked, really hit me. I thought I have to do a sculpture specifically on that text," he told us.

 The idea came to him of having the symbol of the Holy Spirit, represented as a dove, being the force that's covering and sheltering the poor person, with a blanket.

The power of the statue, he said, is that it jars "our spiritual duty to take care of the poor."

“If we can see the Holy Spirit doing it with His wings and His little feet, it hopefully will inspire us to do it with our hands”

Need to change hearts

He expects the work to be installed in various places, to "warm and change people's hearts," and inspire people to help financially help organizations, like the St. Vincent de Paul Society, "to let them do what they do."

“The homeless are oftentimes invisible, and that's the first problem. To make the problems, to make these people visible, is what this the function of this sculpture is.”

"Hopefully they will they will be shook to action," he said.

The value of symbols, as we see for various commercial activities, he said, is so important, and similarly, of this symbol of the Holy Spirit taking care of the poor person.

"Hopefully, it will become a symbol that when people see it," he said, "they identify it with the DePaul Society, an organization on the ground and fixing the problems and helping the desperate people in the world."

How to give alms without cash!

The artist shared an innovative aspect that they wish to implement to concretely help the poor.

“One of the interesting features that we hope to bring to the sculpture is having a QR code placed close by it where people can tap their phones into information, but also donations to the DePaul Society to help the poor.”

"What's fascinating," he continued, "is we are becoming a cashless society and the casualty are a lot of these marginalized homeless people that depend on that $2, $3 given to them with this sculpture.

The statue, in a sense, he said, is "a begging sculpture," really helping the people that need it.

The 'begging sculpture,' and QR Codes

"The hope is to have this sculpture in big cities where you would find homeless people. The cities that we hope to place this from London, England, to Macon, Georgia, to have this sculpture placed to be that constant, perpetual reminder that it's our spiritual duty to help the poor," Mr. Schmalz said.

While the dove, he said, is struggling to put a huge blanket over a person, he says, "We have real hands that could help."

"The idea of having the sculpture working 24 seven collecting money for the homeless people is amazing," he noted, expressing his hope that people passing "will have sympathy for the dove and for the homeless person, and help."

“Don't put a barrier between helping the poor. One of the barriers, the new barriers we have is our cashless culture, our cashless society. By putting the QR codes on these sculptures that the society installs in many different cities, we're overcoming that obstacle.”

Having the St. Vincent de Paul Society,  "one of the greatest charities in the world," to distribute that money in an appropriate, very careful way," he said is very important.

The statue, with the Catholic organization, he suggested, are offering that opportunity for others to better themselves and become more spiritual persons through art.

St. Vincent de Paul Society

Mr. Mark McGreevy, President of the Depaul International Group, who coordinates the FAMVIN Homeless Alliance, spoke to Vatican News about the sculpture’s concreteness and its ties to the humble beginnings of the Vincentians.

“This is about making the homeless visible, but it's also about a call to action.”

Vincent de Paul, back in 1643, he remembered, was faced with working with and helping street children across Paris.

"He didn't have any solutions. He could just look after them on the street, but he wanted to do something more systemic to actually take them off the streets. Louis XIII of France, died and left him the equivalent of today will be €1,000,000. With that, he built 13 houses for them."

Housing 10,000 people in 5 years

McGreevy said he had rules for when they went to bed and woke up, how they were educated and taught skills and that they would graduate and engage in society.

"So we took that model of 400 years ago that Vincent brought," he explained, "and said, “Wouldn't it be good if we could build 13 houses, metaphorically in all 160 countries in which the Vincentian family works across the world with the aim of housing 10,000 people within a five year period.”

“Timothy's statue is a call to action to the Vincentian family and indeed to the whole Church to help us reach that target of housing 10,000 people within a five year period.”

Listen to Mark McGreevy speak about the humble French beginning of the Vincentian family:



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09 November 2022, 14:25