DAVIDSON – A new sculpture, called “Homeless Jesus,” in front of St. Albans Episcopal Church has stirred many people, including Pope Francis, the church’s neighbors and national media.

The arresting, life-sized bronze sculpture depicts Jesus as a homeless man, lying on a park bench covered in a blanket. His feet have gaping puncture wounds.

The work was created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz, who is “devoted to creating artwork that glorifies Christ,” according to his website. It is based on Matthew 25 where Jesus says helping “the least of these” is like helping him.

In November 2013, Schmalz presented his original, half-sized model of “Homeless Jesus” to Pope Francis. Schmalz’s representative, Tony Frey, said the Pope blessed the model, added it to the Vatican’s art collection and hopes to place a full-size version in Piazza Pia.

Of the Pope’s blessing, Father David Buck said, “We’ll take his blessing by proxy!”

St. Alban’s is the third venue to install a full-size “Homeless Jesus.” The sculpture was donated to the church by a member in commemoration of Kate MacIntyre, the former director of Downtown Davidson Inc., who drove the town’s public art initiative before she died in 2007.

But “Homeless Jesus” contrasts with the idyllic St. Alban’s Square neighborhood surrounding the church. One resident called the police when she first saw the statue, thinking it was a real homeless person. Another resident finds the statue “creepy” and would like it removed. Others think it is beautiful and moving.

More than 500 people have commented about “Homeless Jesus” on Yahoo News. USA Today and The Drudge Report also picked up the story.

So the sculpture is doing what great art is supposed to do – provoking strong reactions.