Northern Ireland

Irishman funds Belfast's Homeless Jesus

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Image caption Tim Schmalz's full-size bronze status of Jesus, the Homeless

An Irishman who remembers the kindness he received when he lived in Belfast has offered to fund a special statue for the city.

Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz was in Dublin last week at the unveiling of his "Homeless Jesus" statue in the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral.

Now, the funds for a Belfast statue have been granted by an anonymous benefactor.

"The man is from Ireland," he said.

"A day after the Dublin one was installed he agreed to fund one for Belfast.

"He thinks the sculpture is a much-needed message in Belfast.

"He believes it will bring some of the most important aspects of the gospels to the city."

The Homeless Jesus is a 7ft bronze sculpture of a figure on a park bench.

At first glance, you see someone huddled in blankets and snatching at sleep. At second glance, you think that it is a statue.

At third glance, you notice the holes in the feet - where the nails went in that nailed him to the cross.

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Image caption Sculptor Tim Schmalz meets Pope Francis in Rome

Jesus, the Homeless, is a life-size bronze statue that has divided opinion in America and England.

Some people love the Banksy feel of it - the sense of art for the people, reaching out to the individual on street corners and parks.

Others consider it an insult to the figure of Christ Jesus - leaving him out in the rain. They considered it "insulting" and "demeaning".

The Dublin statue is the first of its kind outside North America.

Now, after the anonymous patron agreed to fund the project, Tim Schmalz began work on his Belfast statue.

The first statue was inspired by a sideways glance at a homeless person on a bench in Toronto.

"I want to get the message out, especially to churches that might want to put this visual prayer outside their church," he said.

Sending his statue and the message it sends across the world is Mr Schmalz's dream.

"The dream is going great," he said.

"At some places people leave gifts for the homeless around the sculpture that are picked up by the homeless or, at the end of the day, collected and given to the shelters.

"I feel that the artwork is being used to remind people that all human life is sacred, and to see people becoming so excited makes me feel it is a great day for art which is usually shoved in corners of art galleries where people rarely visit."

The sculptor said it was also a "great day for Christianity whose most powerful messages - to remind us that all human life is sacred - are usually expressed inside the church, one day a week."

The statue is what Tim Schmalz calls his "frozen sermon". He is now hoping that a place can be found for it in the city.

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