Christ statue in Peru damaged by fire days before pope visit


A giant Christ statue in Peru's capital that was donated by a construction company at the center of Latin America's largest corruption scandal was damaged Saturday in a fire, days before Pope Francis is set to arrive in the South American nation.

Peruvians awoke to find nearly the entire back of the statue, perched on a barren desert bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, charred black.

A spokesperson with Peru's firefighting corps told RPP Noticias that two dozen firefighters responded to the blaze and that an early working theory was the "Christ of the Pacific" was purposely set aflame.

However police later told state news agency Andina that electrical cables for the statue's lighting had short-circuited due to humidity, sparking the blaze.

"Police security for the Holy Father's visit is assured," Col. Manuel Rivera said.

The 69-foot (21-meter) statue was donated by Brazilian company Odebrecht in 2011, and for many Peruvians it has become a sour reminder of the company's illegal maneuverings to court and bribe high-ranking officials in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.

In January 2017, vandals covered the statue in messages like "Out of the country Odebrecht."

Two former Peruvian presidents are accused of accepting money from Odebrecht, and current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski narrowly escaped impeachment in December over his ties to the company. Opposition lawmakers uncovered documents showing Kuczynski's private consulting firm received $782,000 from Odebrecht more than a decade ago when he was serving as a government minister.

Kuczynski has denied knowing anything about the payments, saying he recused himself from all consulting business while in the position.

The Christ statue's burning comes five days before Francis is scheduled to arrive in Peru.

The pope has hoped to highlight the need to protect the Amazon rainforest during his visit, but Peruvians will be paying close attention to whether he addresses corruption. It's an issue close to his heart, and he has called graft more insidious than sin and a plague that hurts the poorest the most.

The statue cost about $1 million, Odebrecht said in 2011.

Alan Garcia, whose second stint as Peru's president ran from 2006 to 2011 and who's under preliminary investigation into whether he took Odebrecht bribes, has said he contributed about $30,000 out of his own pocket for its construction.

"I want it to be a figure that blesses Peru," Garcia said at the time.

Francis will arrive first in Chile on Monday. Authorities there are on guard after several Roman Catholic churches in the capital, Santiago, were firebombed with pamphlets left at one scene threatening the pontiff: "The next bombs will be in your cassock."

The pamphlets also extolled the cause of the Mapuche indigenous people, who are pushing for a return of ancestral lands and other rights.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Sen. Sherrod Brown donates pay during shutdown
Sen. Sherrod Brown donates pay during shutdown

Under relentless attacks from Republicans for blocking a vote on a bill that would have kept the federal government open, Sen. Sherrod Brown said he would donate his paycheck during the shutdown to an Ohio diaper bank which helps low-income families.  Brown, D-Ohio, announced the move in a statement Saturday on the first full day of a partial...
Boy, 12, dies from flu-like symptoms in Michigan
Boy, 12, dies from flu-like symptoms in Michigan

A 12-year-old boy from Michigan who vomited during dinner one night, went to an urgent care facility the next night and had a flu test come back negative tragically died the very next morning. Michael Messenger’s family can’t believe how quickly their world was turned upside-down, losing a son and a brother who had been so full of life...
Shutdown nixes Trump visit to Mar-a-Lago; party goes on with son Eric headlining
Shutdown nixes Trump visit to Mar-a-Lago; party goes on with son Eric headlining

The federal government shutdown led President Donald Trump to cancel plans to celebrate the anniversary of his first year in office at a $100,000-per-couple fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago on Saturday. As of Saturday evening, the fundraiser was still set to go on with presidential son Eric Trump and his wife, Lara Trump, and Republican National...
Girl, 9, unknowingly hands out THC-laced candy to classmates, school says
Girl, 9, unknowingly hands out THC-laced candy to classmates, school says

A 9-year-old girl unwittingly ate, and handed out to other classmates, THC-laced candy, school officials said.  The girl brought the candies to school last Thursday and said she could not see; another girl ate them and started to feel dizzy, Albuquerque School of Excellence Dean of Elementary School Students Kristy Del Curto told KRQE. ...
Man shot in leg during drug deal outside Walmart, police say
Man shot in leg during drug deal outside Walmart, police say

Police are looking for the suspect who shot a man during a drug deal around 3 p.m. Saturday in a Walmart parking lot. According to Sgt. Brandon McCroskey of the Fairfield Township police, the suspect shot the victim in the leg during a drug deal while the victim was in his vehicle. The victim then accelerated his vehicle and struck other vehicles and...
More Stories