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‘Homeless Jesus’ Statue Unveiled

Pastor Kate Aaronson believes in the statue's mission despite criticism.  

By Rachel Rogish

NORTH WILDWOOD – Gray skies couldn’t dampen enthusiasm or curiosity June 12, when the “Homeless Jesus” statue was unveiled.  
Hosted by the North Wildwood United Methodist Church, the dedication ceremony revealed the long-awaited bronze statue, created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmaltz, designed to raise awareness for the homeless and stir viewers to action.  
“Welcome to a wet but warm unveiling of ‘Homeless Jesus,’” Pastor Kate Aaronson, North Wildwood United Methodist Church, said, beginning the ceremony at 9 a.m.  
Aaronson welcomed various faiths represented in the crowd of nearly 100 people. “Homeless Jesus” is not specific to any tradition, according to Aaronson. She first encountered “Homeless Jesus” while on vacation, in Madrid, Spain. Several statues exist across the world, including the Vatican.  
Rev. Joseph Wallace, of Notre Dame De La Mer Parish, in North Wildwood, saidan opening prayer. Wallace prayed eyes would “be open to pain,” especially the plight of the homeless. 
“We can’t roll over in our comfortable bedswith a quiet conscience,” Wallace said. 
“Help us to see your (Jesus) face in the eyes of every homeless person,” he concluded.  
The 600-pound statue shows a hooded figure sleeping on a park bench. Nail scars mark the figure’s feet, representing Jesus Christ.  
“’Homeless Jesus’ shows who we are as a church and as a caring and compassionate community in North Wildwood,” Aaronson said.  
Social media comments before the unveiling ranged from supportive to critical. Several questioned the financial prudence of installing a statute and security issues it may impose. Others said the image is disrespectful.  
Aaronson said “the church has always provided emergency assistance” to those in need. All donations given, in place of “Homeless Jesus,” will go directly to charitable organizations, i.e., Lazarus House, Family Promise, and The Branches.    
Aaronson said she “would see the argument” if the cost interfered with helping others.  
“The statue is a visual sermon,” she said.  
From Aaronson’s perspective, challenging hearts will create long-term benefits. She hopes passersby will encounter the statue, and Mayor Patrick Rosenello expressed his appreciation and admiration for the project.  
The mayor said reminders of the struggles with mental health, poverty, and hunger resound in the community. These issues are a “cross” that too many bear unseen. 
Rosenello said the church is not a building, but the people within – those willing to make a difference. The mayor said the city does not anticipate security issues, i.e., vandalism, regarding the statue.
“You are the real miracle workers,” Frank Stone, director, Lazarus House Food Pantry, said.  
“You trusted in God, believed in yourselves, and dared to dream,” he added.  
United Methodist District Superintendent Rev. Brian Roberts dedicated the statue, asking others to stretch out their hand in blessing and ready to help others.  
“Art stirs us beyond ourselves,” Roberts said.  
“Homeless Jesus” may provoke controversy, but the stark image also creates conversation and pause.  
To contact Rachel Rogish, email rrogish@cmcherald.com. 

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