Image: Head and body of Jesus statue
Kacper Pempel  /  Reuters
The head of a Jesus statue being built in Swiebodzin, Poland, awaits being lifted by crane to the top of the 110-foot-tall body.
updated 11/5/2010 2:59:04 PM ET 2010-11-05T18:59:04

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

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A Polish priest is on the verge of realizing 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 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 Saturday. Polish media say the project cost 4 million zlotys ($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 45 miles 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.

Image: Arms of the Jesus statue
Kacper Pempel  /  Reuters
The arms of of the Jesus statue sit near the body on Thursday in Swiebodzin, Poland.

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.

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The Jesus statue, once erected, will rise a total of 167 feet, including a mound it sits on and a golden king's crown on the head, according to organizers. By comparison, the statue in Brazil's Rio, which the Polish version resembles closely in design, is 125 feet tall.

The figure faces a shopping center and supermarket just across the street, and beyond that, the town.

Maciej Czerniewski, a 45-year-old who runs a small store in the shopping center selling magazines, coffee and lottery tickets, said he welcomes any new business that will come his way thanks to the statue. But he is also deeply embarrassed by it and accused the priest of "megalomania."

"In general I don't care about this project but I would prefer to be living in a normal country," Czerniewski said. "We have bad roads, bad infrastructure but the most monuments in the world and now the biggest Jesus in the world."

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Zawadzki has seen setbacks along the way. On Friday, he refused to talk to reporters. Construction workers in neon vests explained that the priest was "worried" about how things were going.

Polish media have carried many reports about the priest and problems with the project.

Reports say that along the way, a bishop tried to halt the project and officials threatened to withdraw permission for it because of its enormous size. The elderly Zawadzki then had a heart attack. He recovered and plans got back on track, but in recent weeks there was a new setback: cranes were unable to mount the torso and head because of their massive weight.

So they sent for a larger, more powerful crane, and had hoped to get the job done Friday. But powerful winds blew from the direction of Berlin, and it was too risky to attempt.

"Tomorrow we're going to try this," one of the construction workers told reporters. As he spoke, the priest — who had spent the day at the site — slipped away in a silver Mercedes.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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