There is a common saying among the youth in Brazil, especially when it comes to matters of football. “The pope may be Argentinian. But god is definitely Brazilian”
Of course, this is a reference to the fact that the current pope is Argentinian, while Rio de Janeiro has the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking the city and showering its blessings. But come to think of it. There was another place in the world, which had both the pope and the Christ.
Dili, in Timor Leste.
Further Reading: The Pope may be Argentinian, but his Italian was one of the smoothest that I have heard.
From the Pope to Cristo Rei
After my little road-trip to see the statue of Pope John Paul II in the outskirts of Dili, I had taken a couple of days to explore the outskirts of the city, like Aileu, Maubara and Liquica. This was because I thought I had seen almost everything in Dili already. After all, it was quite a compact city to walk around.
Turns out, I was wrong. There was still the statue of Cristo Rei of Dili (Christ the king of Dili) for me to see.
From the Statua Juventude (which I had seen during my beach walk in Dili a couple of days ago), I had to take a taxi for about 12KM. Note that this was back in 2014, so this stretch was empty. But I am told by my Timorese friends that this place has developed a lot since then, filled with beach bars and restaurants.
This stretch of Dili is called the Fatucama peninsula. And as I entered the peninsula, I was greeted with a vast park, which was called the Area Branca. It was nearing the evening, and this seemed to be the place where all the joggers of Dili came to work out. Complete with a small performance stage, it was a really serene and peaceful place, but I was told that it was quite lively during the anti-Indonesia protests before Timor Leste got it’’s independence.
And at the end of the Area branca, I could see the outstretched arms of the Cristo Rei, reaching out towards the sea.
The interesting history of the Cristo Rei
Timor leste is one of the poorest countries in the world, and I am sure they could have spent the money on infrastructure or development, instead of building such a gigantic statue. So, the more pertinent question was, how did Timor end up having this giant statue in the first place? And that leads to a very interesting historical story.
99% of Timor Leste’s population is Christian, but it was annexed by Indonesia for a period of 25 years. Indonesia kept East Timor as a province during this time, and maintained a local governor. And it was the idea of the local governor, Jose Abilio Osorio Soares, to build a symbolic statue of Jesus Christ. The idea was to let the Timorese know that they have nothing to fear about their faith, even if they were occupied by a muslim-dominant Indonesia.
The Indonesian president Suharto took up on this idea, and gave the go-ahead to build the giant statue of the Christ. It was supposed to be a present to East Timor for their 20th anniversary of integration into Indonesia, in 1996.
The statue was built in Bandung, Indonesia and took nearly a year to complete under the design and supervision of an Indonesian sculptor named Mochamad Syailillah. It was shipped in pieces to Dili, and the reassembly took another 3 months. By this point, Indonesia had already burnt 5 billion Indonesia Rupiah. But the Indonesians made a silly mistake. They established the statue with Jesus Christ facing the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. And 5 billion rupiah went down the drain, as this ploy had no effect on the Timorese. They waged their independence movement stronger than before, and eventually, gained their independence in 2002.
The walk up to the Christ statue
I started walking up towards the Cristo Rei. If someone had told me at that point that it was going to be 500 steps to get to the top, I might have had second thoughts.
But it was a pleasant walk. There was a small chapel where the walk began, and along the steps, there were a few white partial domes, with copper doors in the middle of them. I think the doors were only symbolic of something, but they did have some religious inscriptions on them.
Every once in a while – along the steps – the view would clear out for me to look at the sight of the beaches in Dili. It was a beautiful beach, with some decent surfing swells at certain places, and I am sure tourism would pick up soon here.
After a surprisingly-not-tiresome 15 minutes of walks, I was at the top – facing the outstretched arms of a Jesus statue that was made by a muslim designer. And that was when I noticed that the statue was actually installed on top of a globe.
The statue itself was 27 metres high, and I was told that it was originally made of 27 separate copper sections in Bandung, and then reassembled in Dili.
I joined the few other Timorese families who had gathered there in a mini-picnic. Families were taking a little rest – with food and drinks – after the long walk that they had to undertake to get here.
We hung out there till the sunset was upon us. I took a quick view at the majestic sight of the ocean in front of me. And then made my way back to the city of Dili, before it became dark. The Cristo Rei stayed the night with its arms outstretched, waiting for yet another day.
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This post is part of my stories about Timor Leste. Click here to check out other amazing travel stories from Timor Leste.
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