Wednesday, June 19, 2024

‘When I Was Hungry’ Statue Blessed at Catholic Charities’ Homes for Healing

On a perfect early spring day, nearly 30 people gathered on the front lawn of the St. Samuel Center in Harrisburg for the unveiling and blessing of “When I Was Hungry and Thirsty.” This statue of Jesus as a beggar was dedicated in honor of the Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer, Bishop Emeritus of Harrisburg, in thanks and appreciation for his support and work with Catholic Charities during his nearly 10 years as Bishop of Harrisburg.

“‘When I Was Hungry and Thirsty’ is a representation of Jesus begging, just like many of our clients that are out on the street are begging for somebody to notice them,” said Kelly Gollick, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese. “We welcome those who go unnoticed and unseen every day on the streets. And we look at them and we see Jesus Christ in their eyes. We serve them and we are grateful for the opportunity to have them here in our programs, and we are grateful to have such a beautiful representation of Jesus Christ here in front of the St. Samuel Center.”

The statue was created by famed sculptor Timothy Schmalz. A figurative artist, Schmalz creates epic artwork that connects with viewers through design and details that not only touch the viewer on an emotional level, but also allows them to feel they are a “part” of the piece. Some of his most reputable pieces are installed in historical churches in Rome and at the Vatican.

Gollick added that after having Schmalz as the speaker for Charities’ annual Hands of Christ Creating Hope benefit dinner last year, they were inspired to secure a statue for the St. Samuel Center in honor of Bishop Gainer.

The readings for the blessing included Matthew 25, where Christ says that when providing food, drink and clothing to those in need, we also do so for Him.

“This image of our Lord Jesus Christ very visibly and tangibly expresses the Gospel we just heard proclaimed,” said Bishop Timothy Senior. “We are challenged to recognize Him in the presence of those who are poor and the most vulnerable. Jesus in disguise is here before us today.”

Bishop Senior continued that, as Catholics, we are called to fulfill the primary law, which is to love God and to love our neighbors.

“We honor and love almighty God through our love for one another, especially those who are most vulnerable. This mission is at the heart of every Christian. It’s a mandate that He gives us. But we hear also, soberly, that is the criteria we are judged by,” said the bishop. “And it is not always easy to discern how best to respond, when you pass someone who, like this statue, is perhaps a homeless person on the street asking for money or food; we don’t always know how to react. That we need to help, is not in question. How to help is what we are struggling to do. And that’s where Catholic Charities comes in.”

Through its many programs and those programs of local parishes, the Diocese is responding to the needs found in our communities.

“The statue placed here is a reminder of that core mission of our Church and an irreplaceable part of our faith. I’m particularly grateful to the benefactors…thank you to those who made this statue possible,” said Bishop Senior.

Bishop Gainer offered his words of gratitude after the blessing, saying, “we, the Church, are called to serve in so many ways, but most especially to serve Christ as He is disguised in the person of the poor, the needy and the suffering. This is our mission given to us clearly.”

He added the statue also represents that the hunger and thirst felt by man is on many different levels.

“Hunger and thirst for food and drink, hunger and thirst for truth, hunger and thirst for beauty – hunger and thirst for so many things that feed not just our body but our hearts, our minds, our souls. And Timothy Schmalz as a sculptor, he has the ability to portray that reality,” said Bishop Gainer. “It’s a great privilege for this to be erected today and blessed in my honor, and I accept it humbly with profound gratitude. But also I accept it in union with all the wonderful coworkers that I was blessed with during these almost 10 years here in the Diocese of Harrisburg. Both those who served with me at 4800 Union Deposit, our Diocesan staff, and our wonderful leaders, our priests, our deacons, our great lay leaders throughout our parishes, schools and other institutions in our 15 counties.”

The purchase and installation of the statue was made possible through the generosity of a number of benefactors.

To learn more about the work of Catholic Charities in the Diocese, visit

(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)

By Rachel Bryson, The Catholic Witness

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