In midst of Syrian war, giant Jesus statue arises

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In the midst of a conflict rife with sectarianism, a giant bronze statue of Jesus has gone up on a Syrian mountain, apparently under cover of a truce among three factions in the country's civil war.

Jesus stands, arms outstretched, on the Cherubim mountain, overlooking a route pilgrims took from Constantinople to Jerusalem in ancient times. The statue is 40 feet tall and stands on a base that brings its height to 105 feet.

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.

Majority Sunni Muslims dominate the revolt, and jihadists make up some of the strongest fighting groups. Other Muslim groups along with the 10-percent Christian minority have stood largely with Assad's government, or remained neutral, sometimes arming themselves to keep hard-line rebels out of their communities.

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 cancelling it.

They consulted Syria's Greek Orthodox Patriarch John Yaziji. It was he who told them "Jesus would have done it."

They began shipping the statue from Armenia to Lebanon.

Eventually the statue reached Syria.

"It was a miracle," al-Ghadban said. "Nobody who participated in this expected this to succeed."

The statue can be seen from Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.