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.