Lifestyle & Belief

Vatican slams "Mussolini lookalike" statue of John Paul II

The Vatican on Friday slammed a giant new sculpture outside Rome's main train station that portrays John Paul II but has been compared to the late Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

The work by Italian sculptor, Oliviero Rainaldi, unveiled this week in the large piazza outside Rome's main railway station, Termini, aims to depict the beloved late pontiff as if he was opening his cloak to embrace the faithful. 

But the Vatican itself has criticized the work, despite the Pontifical Commission for Culture approving the original sketches, saying the effect is "of a mantle that almost looks like a sentry box, topped by a head of a pope which comes off too roundish," the Associated Press reports.

The Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, according to the BBC said the figure depicted in the 16-foot-high bronze creation looks nothing John Paul, who was beatified on May 1 in a ceremony that drew more than one million people to the capital.

"His face... bears only a distant resemblance to that of the pope. Overall, the result does not seem to reach its intention," one commentator reportedly wrote. 

Commuters and tourists interviewed by reporters said the modernist statue looked more like Mussolini.

"How could they have given such a kind pope the head of a Fascist?" 71-year-old Antonio Lamonica told the AP outside Termini Train Station. His wife reportedly muttered, "It's ugly, really ugly, very ugly."

The effect of the large cloak falling to the ground on three sides creates a gaping hole at the front. "Homeless people will sleep in there in the winter — the welcoming sense is guaranteed," one protester said.

Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno, asked by APTN if the city might take down the statue — erected in time to mark what would have been John Paul's 91st birthday on 18 May — said public opinion would be considered.

"There's an ancient saying: 'Vox populi, vox dei' [Latin for voice of the people, voice of God]," Alemanno said. "And from this point of view we cannot help but take into consideration the opinion of the public. And if public opinion consolidates around a negative opinion, we'll have to take that into consideration."

Rainaldi reportedly told La Repubblica he was "disappointed" his aims had not been understood.

"I wasn't trying to achieve a similarity, but a work that was able to express, through the position of the head and the body, and the fall of the cloak, the Pope's openness towards the world."

While describing as "praiseworthy" the city of Rome's initiative to erect the tribute, the Vatican said "the statue's sin" is that it is "hardly able to be recognized."