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A giant pope to watch over Santiago?

Chileans dislike a plan to build a 40-foot-tall statue of Pope John Paul II. Some have dubbed it “Popesaurus.”

SANTIAGO, Chile — The neighbors couldn't help but notice the huge head of Pope John Paul II rising out of the sculptor's workshop next door.

Hidden behind the walls, the pope's left hand gripped Jesus on the cross while his right extended outward, an imitation of the gesture he had made during his visit to Santiago two decades earlier.

But this was no private religious homage — it was the makings of a 40-foot-tall bronze statue meant to tower over a bohemian neighborhood in this capital city.

The idea of installing the statue in such a public place has sparked outrage, not only over its enormity but also over the lack of transparency in urban planning.

Not even the Catholic Church supports the project.

“The size of this giant statue is proportional to the lack of delicacy of those who, having money, power and influence, feel they own the city,” said Jesuit priest Felipe Berrios.

The statue was conceived by the privately owned San Sebastian University, which is headed by members of the right-wing, ultraconservative party UDI.

The university is building a campus in front of a park in the Recoleta municipality. In 2007, the mayor of the municipality, Gonzalo Cornejo, decided he wanted to remodel the park. He asked his longtime friend Luis Cordero, vice chancellor of the university and founder of the UDI, to present a proposal.

The $734,000 project involves wiping out the park and its trees to build an underground parking lot, relocating a craft fair that has been there for 20 years and installing a giant pope. Currently named after a young anarchist poet who died after being arrested in the 1920s, the park is to be renamed Park Pope John Paul II.

The statue would sit near the University of Chile’s Law School, a 100-year old national monument that marks the entrance of the bohemian Bellavista neighborhood, full of bars, restaurants, small shops and street vendors, where hundreds of rowdy teenagers and young adults flock to party on weekends.

Cordero put the dean of the school's faculty of architecture, Cristian Boza, in charge of the project, and hired his own brother Daniel, a sculptor, to build it.

But until this September, no one outside of a tight circle knew about the project — not even the National Monuments Council, which has to authorize all such public monuments.