In the midst of a conflict rife with sectarianism, a giant bronze statue of Jesus has gone up on Cherubim Mountain in Saydnaya, Syria. The second largest Jesus statue is a symbol of hope and peace, not only in Syria, but also in the whole Middle East. Jesus stands, arms outstretched, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 12.3 meters (40 feet) tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 32 meters (105 feet), organizers of the project 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.
The project, called “I Have Come to Save the World,” is run by the London-based St. Paul and St. George Foundation, which Samir Al-Ghadban directs. Al-Ghadban said he began the project in 2005, hoping the statue would be an inspiration for Syria’s Christians. He said he was inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s towering Christ the Redeemer statue. He commissioned an Armenian sculptor, but progress was slow. By 2012, the statue was ready, but Syria was aflame, causing the project’s biggest delay.
Churches have been vandalized, priests abducted. Last month the extremists overran Maaloula, a Christian-majority town so old that some of its people still speak a language from Jesus’ time. On Tuesday a militant Muslim cleric, Sheik Omar al-Gharba, posted a YouTube video of himself smashing a blue-and-white statue of the Virgin Mary. Al-Ghadban and the project’s most important backer, Gavrilov, weighed canceling it. They consulted Syria’s Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yaziji. They began shipping the statue from Armenia to Lebanon. Eventually the statue reached Syria. “It was a miracle. Nobody who participated in this expected this to succeed,” said Al Ghadban.
Clergymen pose in ceremonial attire outside of a cathedral in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 1931.
Photograph by W. Robert Moore, National Geographic
Holy Archangel Raphael, appointed by God to guide, protect, and heal, I entrust to you all people who at this moment are contemplating suicide. You guided young Tobias on his journey and protected him from the spirit of death, which sought to destroy his life. I ask you to protect all people from the road that leads to physical and spiritual death, especially those in most danger of despair and suicide. Just as you lead Tobias by the hand, lead them away from the sadness of addiction to peace and joy. Oh holy Raphael, whose name means, “God has healed,” bring them the Lord’s healing. Lord God, hear the prayer I make together with your faithful servant, Raphael. Amen.
I’m praying for you.