Today I ran across a post in an Australian newspaper about a Protestant real estate developer in Indonesia erecting the largest statue of Jesus in Asia…well, maybe not the largest, but it is 30 meters high, and shows Jesus almost flying with outstretched arms, as if he’s trying to welcome us into his arms…or waving to get our attention. It’s name is the “Jesus Blessing Monument”, and Christ is pictured welcoming the just into heaven.
Now, Indonesia is 80% Muslim, but Northern Sulawesi’s population is about one half (mainly Protestant) Christian, and Christians there have suffered some pretty bad persecution from terror groups– including the beheading of two schoolgirls– resulting in strife between the religions when some Christians fought back. Several of the Christian agitators to were executed last year, and last week the terrorists who beheaded those schoolgirls were sentenced to long prison terms. All of this has left some bad blood in the region.
The Australian news article merely says businessman who constructed the statue sees it as a way to “encouarage tourists”. The SperoNews however reports the religious motivation behind the statue, and notes the multi ethnic and multi religious attendees at the statue’s dedication.
The monument’s stand is inscribed with the phrase Torang Samua Basudara, the province’s slogan, which means “we are all brothers and sisters,” in the local dialect.
As for tourism, well, the governor …
thanked Ciputra for building the monument, calling it a religious icon as well as an attraction for the World Ocean Conference, to be held May 11-15, 2009, in Manado, 2,215 kilometers northeast of Jakarta.
Mixing Christ and Cesar? Why not? Pilgrims have to eat and drink, and hospitality for strangers is a “good deed” in both Islam and Christianity. Remember, the Muslims protected the Giant Buddhas and helped Buddhist pilgrims for over a thousand years before the Taliban arrived and blew them up.
There are also Buddhist statues in the VungTau area, as well as a famous golf course and beaches. Like the Indonesians, the Vietnamese government sees the statues as another tourist attraction, something for tourists to visit while staying at the planned Sai Gon Atlantis Resort when it’s finished.
But a more controversial “big Jesus” statue is found outside the capital of Dili in East Timor. Constructed in 1995 partly with money from the Indonesian appointed governor and the Indonesian airlines, it’s construction was resented by many, including the local bishop who pointed out that treating people with justice was more important than building a statue.
Now that East Timor is independent, the statue remains a reminder of their oppression and therefore is not a popular tourist site.
This is in contrast to our most famous “big statue”: Our Lady, Queen of Peace, that commemorates the 1986 People power revolution against Marcos, where a million people stood between Marcos’ soldiers and the Generals backing Cory Acquino, who won the election.
Alas, although beautiful (and not so beautiful) statues of Mary are all over the Phililippines (nearly every Catholic family seems to have a “Lourdes shrine” in the garden) for some reason this sense of beauty didn’t extend to the sculptor: which is why locals call it “the ugly madonna”.
Wikipedia has a list of huge statues if you are interested in trivia.
A lot of the largest are either to Buddha or self made monuments to megalomanac tyrants; some were made as objects of devotion with popular support, and some erected by governments to encourage popular support; some are funded by rich people and some are erected with the support or the donations of ordinary people.
In the US, monuments of anything from Mt.Rushmore to Paul Bunyan are found all over the place, but a public monument with a religious theme, even one on traditional monument, are likely to get you sued. Nevertheless there are privately funded crosses and religious monuments all over the place.
One of my favorite is the Round Mountain cross, in Tularosa New Mexico, celebrating the last battle between the Apaches and the local Hispanic settlers (both groups visit the cross to commemorate their dead, but they do so on different days).
The statue was first imagined by local resident Bob O’Bill. In 1979, his wife was seriously ill with cancer. He promised the Virgin Mary that he would make a 9 foot statue of her in his yard if his wife recovered. When she recovered he began the project with his fellow workers who gradually changed the initial vision to a mountain top statue nearly the size of the Statue of Liberty (111 feet).
To me, a monument that comes spontaneously from people’s hearts has meaning no matter what one’s religion. None of these things are works of artisitic merit, but monuments built by small people to express express what is deep in their hearts are something worth a visit.