Stations of the Cross on the streets of Toronto

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmalz outside Regis College, University of Toronto.
Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmalz outside Regis College, University of Toronto.
 on March 1, 2022

John Franklin is passionate about the role of art in addressing issues of social justice and he’s dedicated the last two decades of his life to advocating for the arts. Mr. Franklin is the executive director of IMAGO, which advocates for the arts in Canada and supports projects across the artistic disciplines. When he heard about the international public arts project “Stations of the Cross” from one of its co-founders, Aaron Rosen, he was immediately interested in bringing it to Toronto. 

Stations of the Cross features art works inspired by the story of the passion that prompt reflection and action on issues of social justice. Each year it is hosted in a different city — though in 2021 it was hosted online with contributions from around the world — and there are typically fourteen stations set up with art works. Participants can follow a pilgrimage route between the works. Reflections and podcasts also prompt participants to reflect more deeply on the art works and their messages. 

In 2022, Stations of the Cross, or Crossings as it will be known this year, will be in Toronto from March 2 to April 14. Due to the pandemic, Mr. Franklin made the decision to have the exhibits entirely outdoors, which presented some challenges. “It changed what we could include. How do you display an original artwork outside? We have had to make display cases for most of the pieces. It’s been a huge challenge and an undertaking.” 

But there is a positive side to having the exhibit entirely outdoors: “You lose the intimacy of a chapel or gallery, but you will get people who are just driving past who will see these pieces. It gives us huge public exposure.” 

Mr. Franklin is keen for as many people as possible to see the exhibition. “The Passion narrative should be available to all. It is a deeply human story. There’s justice, betrayal, vulnerability. It brings together suffering and hope. We don’t often see these as coming together, but Jesus embraced suffering in order to walk a redeeming and healing path.”

One of the pieces that will be included in the Crossings exhibition is Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz’s “Homeless Jesus.” From a distance, the bronze sculpture appears to be a cloaked figure lying on a bench. It is only when the viewer gets close to the sculpture that they can see the crucifixion wounds on the figure’s feet. “One of the wonderful things about art is it’s indirect,” says Mr. Franklin. “It piques curiosity. Good art will call you back again and again. Art can awaken us to see things in a different way. It’s about contemplation and action. Both are important. I hope they can live in creative tension, that people can reflect and then do something.”

There will be a catalogue to accompany the exhibition, with photographs of each of the 16 pieces (Crossings will include an additional two pieces to the usual 14 in order to include the triumphal entry and the resurrection), as well as a background on the artist and their artwork. The catalogue will also contain 16 meditations, with two of the meditations being written by Indigenous Archbishop Mark McDonald and Primate Linda Nicholls. 

For more information and updates visit the Crossings website

Station of the cross illustration

Station: The Sanhedrin Trial of Jesus
Title of artwork: “Explain Yourself”
Artist: Betty Spackman

The premise of this work is simply to show the ludicrousness of judging one another.

The twelve fingers (as a jury), point and ask Jesus to explain himself but he was silent before his accusers at the Sanhedrin saying only, “I AM.” He did not defend his innocence by pointing back. Instead, he retaliated with an act of love.

We so often find solidarity in a common enemy and our mutual hate towards them. We divide into our various camps and cry out for justice, pointing at and accusing the ones who are also pointing at and accusing us. It feels good to stand up together for what we believe is right and demand justice. But if judgmental hatred is our motivation, in the end, no matter how noble the cause, we are all just left with more hatred.

Jesus offered a more radical justice based on forgiveness, which acts in mercy and loves the enemy as well as the friend. He demonstrated the justice of a very difficult love that requires humility and the absurdity of retaliating with a blessing and calls for reconciliation rather than retribution.

Asking someone to tell us who they are and what they believe, in order to understand them and find ways to reconcile, is very different to demanding they explain and prove themselves because we believe they are wrong. It is no wonder this lamb of God who is love was mocked, rejected, brutalized and murdered. Innocent as he was, the only way he explained himself was to lay down his life for his accusers.


  • Naomi Racz

    Naomi Racz is a freelance writer and the editor of Faith Tides, the newspaper of the Diocese of Islands and Inlets (BC).

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