As one of my eccentric interests, I like to read about the peculiarities of dictatorships around the world. They are a great lesson in what to watch out for, and how not to run countries, and the stories that come from the excesses are often too ridiculous for fiction.
The two common themes of most dictatorships are theft and murder. Most combine both, it is merely a matter of scale. Some do more murder than theft, Pol Pot and Hitler being good examples of that. However some do more theft than murder.
Dictators take money from citizens through taxation, through appropriation of land, appropriation of businesses, granting privileges and monopolies to their own businesses and raiding aid budgets, as well as sly deals with foreign companies as pay offs to trade with nationalised industries. What they do with that money can defy the imagination.
So what has that got to do with the Vatican? Well the picture above is of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire, with it standing out clearly on Google Earth. It is listed as the largest church in the world by the Guinness Book of Records. It could merely have been a monument to the more thieving and relatively less murdering autocrat Félix Houphouët-Boigny, President of Côte d'Ivoire from 1960 to 1993 when he died, with an estimated personal wealth of over US$7 billion.
The Basilica reflected his mad project in 1983 in shifting the capital from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro. It was a small agricultural town until he had built a series of large buildings and a airport capable of handling Concorde charters. The Basilica cost US$300 million in 1985 values, and took four years to build. Interesting for a country with a per capita GDP (PPP)of US$1,736 per annum, a literacy rate of just over 50%, and the 19th highest infant mortality rate in the world according to the CIA World Factbook. The Basilica is built of imported marble, and sits essentially in the middle of a jungle.
So what, an African dictator wasted money.
Well the Vatican didn't need to consecrate it (French - translated here). To give him his due, Pope John Paul II required that the government promise to build a hospital nearby before he would consecrate it. He laid the founding stone, which lays to this day as all that has been built of the hospital. Not that this would have made it ok - it is grand larceny. This behemoth of a building, is a grotesque palace paid for by thieving the wealth of the country, of people with an average life expectancy of 49 years. For the Vatican to essentially brush that to one side, and claim to be the bastion of morality for the globe is so ludicrously amusing if it weren't ignoring the tragic consequences. Even had the hospital been built, it wouldn't excuse this grand waste.
The Pope's dedication clearly endorses it:
" Par le Chef de l’Etat, cette basilique a été édifiée en hommage à Notre-Dame, en hommage au Christ rédempteur qui appelle tous les hommes à se rassembler dans l’unité de son Corps"
Treating it as if Houphouët-Boigny built it, then says by HIS generosity the social centre is being built next to it:
Et aussi, grâce à la générosité de Monsieur Félix Houphouët-Boigny, un centre social, la Fondation internationale Notre-Dame de la Paix
This is a church that according to Wikipedia:
"the president commissioned a stained glass window of his image to be placed beside a gallery of stained glass of Jesus and the apostles. This image of Félix Houphouët-Boigny depicts him as one of the three Biblical Magi, kneeling as he offers a gift to Jesus"
Imagine what a boost Houphouët-Boigny got by having essentially Vatican endorsement, not only for building the church, but also being a generous guy, with a quasi-religious Biblical significance!
No doubt the Vatican believed the thieving demagogue President when he said it would be a bullwark against Islam and animist religions. After all, that's what's important in the world isn't it? When Time magazine asked the Vatican about the money it said it was the President's money and land and "The size and expense of the building in such a poor country make it a delicate matter. But it is a project close to the President's heart, and he sees it as an experience of faith. We want to respect that."
Now you see what the Roman Catholic Church respects - the thieving of a poor nation by its faithful autocratic Catholic President, and the building of a monument to him with such money. Shame the Pope couldn't have simply consecrated some small modest building instead, as an act of defiance and protest, and asked for the people of Yamoussoukro to get a reticulated clean water supply and sewage system instead. That would only save lives not souls though.