Europe

Poland opens huge Catholic shrine - after 224-year wait

A picture of the inauguration Mass in the Temple of Divine Providence, in Warsaw, Poland, on November 11, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Catholics in Warsaw finally celebrated the consecration of the city's highest church - after a mere 224 years of waiting

Poland has marked its Independence Day by opening a huge Catholic shrine first proposed more than two centuries ago.

The cornerstone of the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw was laid in 1792, but a Russian invasion and two world wars stalled progress.

The most recent work began in 2003, attracting €50m (£43m; $54m) in private donations.

For Poland's conservative government, the shrine is an emblem of perseverance - and nationalism.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The church was mostly funded by millions of euros in private donations

The country has a large Roman Catholic majority, and the Church continues to influence its politics and social affairs.

An inaugural Mass was celebrated at the temple, with Poland's Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and President Andrzej Duda in attendance.

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki cited John Paul II, the Polish former Pope, in calling for a "responsible" use of freedom and warning against the "arrogance of power".

Even after two centuries, work on the church is is not yet over. Some painting is unfinished and the stained-glass windows are yet to be completed.

Around €7m more in donations is needed to finish the job.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Andrzej Duda (right) kneels as he prays during the Independence Day service
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Poland remains an intensely Catholic country, with a high percentage of active churchgoers

Not everyone in Poland approves of the building, whose stylised rotunda has earned it the unflattering nickname "the giant lemon juicer".

In reward for their 224-year wait, visitors to the temple will be treated to superb acoustics, and lighting which can be changed to reflect different periods of the Church calendar.

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As well as the church, the complex includes a pantheon of great Poles, and a museum commemorating Pope John Paul II and Stefan Wyszynski, the leader of the Catholic Church in Poland under Communist rule.

The temple was lit up in Poland's national colours of red and white to mark the nation's 98th Independence Day.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A man makes a snowball as people queue in freezing weather to enter the temple

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