Polish statue brews controversy
Swiebodzin, Poland is now home to the world’s largest statue of Jesus Christ. The fiberglass and plaster statue is 42 feet taller than the famous soapstone statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and depicts Christ in a golden crown and with open arms. It is the realized dream of Polish Catholic priest Sylwester Zawadzki.
The statue has caused controversy in the country because the enormous piece of religious art, to which thousands of Polish Catholics made a pilgrimage for its consecration on Nov. 21, clashes with the secular identity of the European Union. Poland, historically a devoutly Catholic country, has been experiencing division for decades among older citizens who have held on to their faith through Nazi occupation and Communist takeover, and younger citizens who support a national identity that does not espouse any form of religion. The statue recalls this discord.
The priest who commissioned the statue has not given any satisfactory reason for its construction. Like with many religious sites, the statue will probably become a mix of tourism and devotion, of materialism and spirituality. Religious art functions not only on an aesthetic level, which is what makes this statue so complex, but religious art is also meant to help believers pray and express their fervent faith to others.
I don’t understand why the statue is so big, besides the fact the 33 meters of it were designed to represent the 33 years of Christ’s life. If the statue’s size represents Poland’s love for Jesus, perhaps the Polish Catholic Church could have expressed its love more eloquently by serving the community. Is the statue trying to reinforce Poland’s traditional Catholic identity in defiance of the non-religion of the European Union?
Catholics could do a better job at publicly expressing themselves and their passion for their faith by making less grandiose pieces of devotional art. I think if the Catholic Church spent more time clearly explaining its often-considered esoteric beliefs and replaced its flamboyant demonstrations of devotion with more tactful demonstrations of its fervor, people would better understand the religion. Maybe people would see why Catholics — and faithful people in general — find their faith to be worthy of belief and in fact beautiful, like a piece of art. A piece of good art, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
The other side of the issue should be understood, too. Those who do not want religion to be a part of public life have their reasons. Neither side should dismiss the other as overemotional fanatics or cold intellectuals on their way to perdition. There would be less misunderstanding between the religious and the nonreligious if both sides understood each other. Both sides need to be clear in order to work out an acceptable public policy.