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As pilgrims pour in, Poles lead by a short head in the Jesus statue stakes

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By Noel Young, Correspondent

December 24, 2011 | 3 min read

For years the Jesus statue market has been dominated by Rio de Janeiro's spectacular Christ the Redeemer, which is is about 30 meters tall, excluding its large base. Then there is the 34.2-meter-high Cristo de la Concordia in Bolivia.

Poland powers ahead

Now, driven by the enthusiasm of a 79-year-old priest in Poland , a colossal statue 36 meters tall (108 feet) soars into the sky over the small town of Swiebodzin in Western Poland, apparently beating them both .In the pilgrim business, the Polish enterprise seems to have been something of a marketing coup.

So much so that the celestial competition this week drew the attention of the Wall Street Journal.

The Polish figure includes the statue's three-metre crown- which say the South American shouldn't count. They also say the their statue bases should be included.

Father Zawadzki, who raised $1 million to build the concrete, steel and fiberglass statue through donations, isn't concerned, however. "For me, the construction and consecration of the statue has been the most important experience of my life, "he says.

Work in Poland started in 2006 and the work proceeded by "fits and starts" said the Journal until a year ago when the crown and head were raised into the place.

Since then an estimated 100,000 visitors - have poured in to Swiebodzin, a town of 22,000 people. Some have come from as far as the Philippines and Vietnam. A blessing to the town - and to Tesco as well. They have a store right opposite the statue.

Krzysztof Tomalak, Swiebodzin's deputy mayor told the WSJ, "Everybody knows our name because of the Jesus statue.The project has increased awareness not just of our town, but the whole region."

The town is planning a larger parking lot and may even add a waterfall to the area around the statue. There's also talk of a new hotel for pilgrims.

Meanwhile, Rio, eat your heart out.

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