Facelift for John Paul II statue with an unholy likeness to Mussolini

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The Independent Online

A statue of the late Pope John Paul II, which some critics have claimed resembles the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, is – in true Italian style – about to receive some early cosmetic surgery.

The five-metre bronze monument, which rises from one of the flower beds outside Rome's main Termini train station, was unveiled on 18 May, on what would have been the late pope's 91st birthday. Its abstract rendering of John Paul, who was beatified on 1 May, features a heavy-set head on a minimalist, billowing cloak, intended to symbolise the pontiff's willingness to embrace his flock.

But the statue's tent-liked form, squashed facial features and bullet-shaped head did not go down well with church or layman. The Vatican's own L'Osservatore Romano newspaper tutted that the head was "excessively spherical". The public has been far blunter, suggesting that the green-tinged figure looked like Mussolini or even a creature from Star Trek. An online poll in La Repubblica newspaper suggested that 86 per cent of the public disliked the statue.

And so, just four months after it was unveiled, its Italian creator Oliviero Rainaldi has said he is willing to make some alterations, despite claiming that people had "misunderstood" his original concept, which was to express John Paul's "openness to the world".

His concessions have been prompted by a city commission's demands for a makeover, according to the Ansa news agency. It says officials have called for some serious work to the statue's face, head, arm, cloak and shoulder.

When the statue was unveiled, the capital's Mayor, Gianni Alemanno – a former neo-fascist – initially refused to join in the chorus of criticism, instead insisting that public opinion would dictate the statue's fate. "If public opinion is on the negative side, we'll have to take that into consideration," he said. Given the ceaseless flak the monument has received, it now appears only a matter of time before it goes under the knife.

Ironically, another criticism levelled at the statue – that the space beneath the bronze cloak could be used as a shelter by homeless people – is something that would have pleased John Paul II, who preached compassion. As Rainaldi said: "If a street person needs a place to sleep and found it under my statue, I'd be glad."