Benny Mawel, Jayapura – A Catholic bishop in Indonesia's Papua province has criticized a plan by local authorities in Jayapura to build "the world's tallest statue of Jesus," calling the move a waste of much-needed money.
Djuli Mambaya, head of Papua's public work agency, told reporters last week that construction would cost 300 billion rupiah (US$23 million) and begin sometime next year.
Planners say the statue at 73 meters high would dwarf the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is 38 meters high. A museum will also be built that would highlight Papua's Christian and cultural heritage, they said.
The announcement brought swift condemnation by the local Catholic bishop. "It's unnecessary. The money should be allocated for more urgent things such as education, health and alleviating poverty," Franciscan Bishop Leo Laba Ladjar of Jayapura told ucanews.com.
Papua governor, Lukas Enembe said the project aims to dispel perceptions that Papau is a place of violence and attract visitors to the Christian-majority province. "It will be an icon and a symbol of Christianity in Papua," he said.
About 65 percent of Papua's 3.2 million people are Protestant, while about 18 percent are Catholic.
Bishop Laba Ladjar said the local government should sit down with church leaders "and address more important issues, such as poverty, killings, and other forms of crimes that are against Christian values."
Yuliana Woi, a vegetable seller in Jayapura, said although the statue was a good idea in principle, the government needed to get its priorities right by placing the interests of local people first.
Building a market so people do not have to sell their wares on the street would be a start, she said. "A statue will not change our lives, but being able to sell things will," she said.
Yan Kristian Warinusi from the Reformed Evangelical Church in Papua doubted whether the statue would prove a big tourist draw.
He said a 30-meter high statue of Christ – so far the largest in Indonesia – erected a few years ago in Mansinam Island in West Papua to commemorate the arrival of two German Protestant missionaries on Feb. 5, 1855, has failed to attract visitors.
"It has not had a positive impact for Christianity. Every Feb. 5, people come and take photos, and then leave and forget about it," he said.
The government would be better off channel the budget for this new statue to religious institutions or churches to support evangelization work, Warinusi said.