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    World's Tallest Jesus Statue Inaugurated in Poland

    A local priest built what his town members claim is now the largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world in Swiebodzin, Poland.
    A local priest built what his town members claim is now the largest statue of Jesus Christ in the world in Swiebodzin, Poland.

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    The world's tallest Jesus statue now reigns over a field in western Poland, on the outskirts of a small town with big hopes for tourism. But the statue reveals a lot about Polish Catholicism and the divisions within it.



    The statue was completed last month, rising from a cabbage field. Measuring a towering 51 meters, it is a nearly 14 meters taller than the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, and even beats the previous record-holder in Bolivia.

    The setting may lack some of the grandeur of Rio's mountaintop - this Jesus stands across from the local Tesco supermarket. But residents in the town of Swiebodzin are no less proud of their statue. Dubbed "Christ the King", it was the dream of a local priest and was financed entirely through private local donations. But some people in Poland see the statue as being too ostentatious, or not representing the true spirit of Christianity.

    During the statue's inauguration ceremony in late November, hundreds of pilgrims and curious onlookers descended on the town as a singing procession made its way down the street.

    "It's beautiful, just beautiful," said one local man as he gazed at the statue, which stands on a small mound of earth and is topped with a golden crown.

    Strong links

    The link between the Catholic church and patriotism is strong in Poland, partly due to the Church's role in opposing communism. The country still has one of the highest church-going populations in Europe. In Swiebodzin, some people in the procession were carrying banners that read, "Jesus is the only king of Poland." One group was wearing red capes emblazoned with both a picture of Jesus and the Polish white eagle.

    Another man wearing a cape says that he came because he is both a patriot and a believer, and he believes in what the church is doing for Poland.

    Tourism boost

    But other local residents see the giant statue as an opportunity to attract tourists to their town, which does not normally get many visitors.

    A man who traveled from Germany just to see the statue, says he is not religious himself, but that he came out of curiosity and thinks there are others who will do the same.

    Although Poland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Poles have been divided lately over the overt presence of religion in the public sphere. This debate came to a head last summer with a stand-off over a wooden cross outside the presidential palace in Warsaw.

    Criticism

    Swiebodzin's statue, which took five years to build, is not without its detractors. Some Poles see the whole project as ridiculous, while others simply think that such monuments do not represent the spirit of Christianity.

    Tomasz Krolak, vice president of Poland's Catholic Information Agency, is one of them. He says that while he respects Swiebodzin's decision to build it, he doesn't think the statue has much to do with true Catholicism.

    "I have a problem with this statue in Swiebodzin. I would like to point out that this idea - the monument in Swiebodzin - is not any central idea of the Catholic church in Poland,"" Krolak said. "The best way for the Christian community is to build monuments of Christ inside us, in our hearts, in our minds."

    Main attraction

    But for one young man from Swiebodzin, the issue is not so simple.

    He says he is sure the money could have been better spent. "With that kind of money we could really have helped people," he says. He does think, though, that lots of people will come to see the statue, and it will be good for the local economy. "Plus," he says, "we will be famous."

    Whether tourists will really flock to this small Polish town remains to be seen. But in the meantime, the locals are convinced that their giant Jesus in the cabbage field will finally put them on the map.

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