Polish priest raising world`s largest Jesus statue

Many Poles are embarrassed by project and accuse the priest of megalomania.

Swiebodzin: Step aside, Rio de Janeiro. This town is building a Jesus bigger than yours.

A Polish priest is on the verge of realising his dream of erecting what he says will be the world`s largest statue of Jesus Christ in a small town in western Poland.

Attempts were made on Friday to complete the statue which will rise a couple yards higher than the iconic Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro. But heavy winds prevented cranes from lifting the torso, arms and head onto the lower half of the robed white figure.

Workers plan to try again just after sunrise on Saturday. Polish media say the project cost 4 million zlotys (USD 1.45 million). Donations came from across the spectrum from business people to poor people wanting to make a contribution to the church. Work on the statue began in 2008.

Many Poles are embarrassed by the project and accuse the priest, Rev Sylwester Zawadzki, of megalomania. But town residents are thrilled by the new business they hope it will bring once believers in this deeply Roman Catholic country add it to their pilgrimage routes. They also hope that many Germans who tend to be much more secular than Poles will visit simply out of curiosity since the border with Germany is only 70 kilometres away.

"My friends in Warsaw are making fun of this, but we are happy about it," said Krystyna Skurzynska, a 68-year-old retired biology teacher who belongs to the priest`s parish.

She said she hopes it will stimulate the economy and return some old glory to Swiebodzin, a town of 22,000 that was, as she put it, "a major town in the 13th century”.

The Mayor, Dariusz Bekisz, also is a fan.

"The biggest statue of Jesus Christ in the world will be in Swiebodzin," he said. "People will come and leave some of their money behind."

He has no use for those mocking the project as excessively grandiose: "When castles and the pyramids were built, there were always people who were laughing. But look at how many millions of people go to see such places and spend their money there now," he said.

The priest, Zawadzki, came up with his idea several years ago, though he imagined something much smaller in scale at first. With time, ambition grew for the man known around town as "the builder priest" thanks to churches and other projects he has carried out.

The Jesus statue, once erected, will rise a total of 51 meters, including a mound it sits on and a golden king`s crown on the head, according to organisers. By comparison, the statue in Brazil`s Rio, which the Polish version resembles closely in design, is 38 meters tall.