Moment of truce allows a statue to rise
In the midst of a conflict rife with sectarianism, a giant bronze statue of Jesus has gone up on a Syrian mountain, apparently under cover of a truce among three factions in the country's civil war.
Jesus stands, arms outstretched, on the Cherubim mountain, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 40 feet tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 105 feet, organizers of the project estimate.
That the statue made it to Syria and went up without incident on Oct. 14 is remarkable. The project took eight years and was set back by the civil war that followed the March 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Christians and other minorities are targets in the conflict, and the statue's safety is by no means guaranteed. It stands among villages where some fighters, linked to al-Qaida, have little sympathy for Christians.
So why put up a giant statue of Christ in the midst of such setbacks and so much danger?
Because “Jesus would have done it,” organizer Samir al-Ghadban quoted a Christian church leader as telling him.
The backers' success in overcoming the obstacles shows the complexity of civil war, where sometimes despite the atrocities, the warring parties can reach short-term truces.
Al-Ghadban said that the main armed groups in the area — Syrian government forces, rebels and the local militias of Sednaya, the Christian town near the statue site — halted fire while organizers set up the statue, without providing further details.
Rebels and government forces occasionally agree to cease-fires to allow the movement of goods. They typically do not admit to having truces because that would tacitly acknowledge their enemies.
It took three days to raise the statue. Photos provided by organizers show it being hauled in two pieces by farm tractors, then lifted into place by a crane. Smaller statues of Adam and Eve stand nearby.
The project, called “I Have Come to Save the World,” is run by the London-based St. Paul and St. George Foundation, which Al-Ghadban directs.
It was named the Gavrilov Foundation, after a Russian businessman, Yuri Gavrilov.
Documents filed with Britain's Charity Commission describe it as supporting “deserving projects in the field of science and animal welfare” in England and Russia, but the commission's accounts show it spent less than $400 in the last four years.
Al-Ghadban said most of the financing came from private donors, but did not supply further details.
Russians have been a driving force behind the project — not surprising, given that the Kremlin is embattled Assad's chief ally, and the Orthodox churches in Russia and Syria have close ties. Al-Ghadban, who spoke to The Associated Press from Moscow, is Syrian-Russian and lives in both countries.
Al-Ghadban said he began the project in 2005, hoping the statue would be an inspiration for Syria's Christians. He said he was inspired by Rio de Janeiro's towering Christ the Redeemer statue.
He commissioned an Armenian sculptor, but progress was slow. A series of his backers died, including Valentin Varennikov, a general who participated in the 1991 coup attempt against then President Mikhail Gorbachev. He later sought President Vladimir Putin's backing for the statue project.
Varennikov died in 2009.
Another backer, Patriarch Ignatius IV, the Lebanon-based head of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, died in 2012. He had donated the land for the statue, according to church official Bishop Ghattas Hazim.
By 2012, the statue was ready, but Syria was aflame, causing the project's biggest delay, al-Ghadban said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Stabbing attacks by Palestinians spread in Israel
- EU hardens stance on immigration
- U.S. warships may ply South China Sea
- Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus wins Nobel literature prize
- Mecca pilgrimage death toll at 1,399
- Russia missiles fall short of Syria, land on Iran soil
- Yemen fighting flares at vital Red Sea strait
- Scientists win Nobel chemistry award for work on DNA repair