November 3, 2013 in Nation/World

As Syrian rages, giant Jesus statue goes up

Diaa Hadid Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Workers prepare to install a 40-foot-tall statue of Jesus atop Mount Sednaya, Syria, in the midst of a civil war rife with sectarianism.
(Full-size photo)

BEIRUT – 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, project organizers 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 all 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 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 previously 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.

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