Giant John Paul II statue readied for unveiling

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CZESTOCHOWA, Poland (AP) - Workers are putting the finishing touches on a new statue of the late Pope John Paul II that its backer is calling the tallest one of the pontiff in the world.

The 13.8-meter (45.3-foot) white fiberglass figure will tower over the southern Polish city of Czestochowa, home to the predominantly Catholic country's most important pilgrimage site, the Jasna Gora monastery.

Funded by a private investor and put up on his land, the statue of the Polish-born pontiff shows him smiling and stretching his arms to the world. On Tuesday, workers were joining the pieces together and painting them before the official unveiling of the statue Saturday, to be attended by church and city authorities.

Leszek Lyson, who is funding the project, called the pope "a great and good man who has done a lot for the world: ended communism and opened borders in Europe, reached out to people in his pilgrimages around the world."

He said the statue "should make everyone stop and think about life."

Its construction comes as the traditionally respected church is facing criticism for its conservative views on the family and ethics, and its opposition to abortion, in-vitro fertilization and gay marriage.

Poland has long been predominantly Roman Catholic, but church statistics show attendance shrinking from some 50 percent of parish members in the 1980s; to 45 percent in 2005, the year the pope died; to 41 percent in 2010.

Born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, southern Poland, John Paul was elected pope in 1978, a surprise choice from communist-controlled eastern Europe.

In Poland, he is credited with inspiring the Solidarity movement that helped end communism in 1989. His death was a time of national mourning.

Lyson told The Associated Press that he wants the new statue to remind future generations of the Polish pope.

However, 22-year-old Ewelina Gozdek, who was watching the preparations with her friends, was skeptical. "It is an attraction now in a city where nothing ever happens, but will be forgotten soon enough," she said.

The unveiling ceremony will mark three years since Lyson saved his son from drowning and is a sign of thanks.

He is also trying to get the statue into Guinness Book of Records as the world's tallest one of John Paul.

That will generate comparisons with two John Paul statues in other countries.

Last year, an adapted version of a controversial 5.5-meter (18-feet) bronze sculpture of Pope John Paul II went on display in Rome. The original had irked many Romans who said it was ugly and didn't adequately capture the likeness of their beloved pope.

In Santiago, Chile, a small statue of the pope was inaugurated on San Cristobal Hill in 2011, after a proposal to build a 13-meter (43-foot) one was rejected as too big.

Poland already boasts that it has the world's tallest statue of Jesus, unveiled in 2010 in the western town of Swiebodzin.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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