RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro has launched an international appeal for donations to help restore Christ the Redeemer, Brazil’s most famous statue, considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

“Christ the Redeemer, with its open arms, is the greatest showcase for Rio and Brazil,” said Cardinal Orani João Tempesta, the archbishop of Rio, at the launch of the “Friends of Christ the Redeemer” campaign earlier this month.

“If you think of Paris, you think of the Eiffel Tower. If you go to New York, you visit the Statue of Liberty.”

The initiative, he added, was a way of “continuing to spread the Christian faith.”

But the iconic attraction suffers from numerous cracks due to lightning strikes, said the Reverend Omar Raposo, dean in charge of the upkeep of the monument.

“For the past 85 years the monument has been maintained with the help of private donations and the Catholic Church’s own resources,” Raposo said. “But unfortunately, with the economic crisis in Brazil, we need to appeal for more contributions to make ends meet.”

The statue was completed in the Tijuca National Park in 1931. It receives more than 3 million visitors a year.

However, the sanctuary where the 98-foot-tall image is located, doesn’t receive an income from the park’s ticket office.

“Even though it’s the main draw in the park and the most visited monument in the country, we don’t get a (cent) from ticket sales,” Raposo said.

The priest said the money raised would help maintain the statue and pay the 30 employees who work in the sanctuary. The annual cost of managing the site is about $1.5 million.

According to Cristina Ventura, the architect responsible for the restoration, emergency work needs to be undertaken soon to avoid the risk of irreversible damage that includes the threat of losing parts of the original structure to decay and corrosion.

“Moisture is seeping in through cracks in the soapstone that lines the Christ and it’s building up inside leaving it damp and causing rust,” she warned.

In addition, researchers said the “crown” of the Christ, which also acts as a lightning rod, is no longer enough to protect the monument. The structure receives an average of six strikes a year and needs several new high-tech conductors.

Administrators of the park, the Chico Mendes Institute, acknowledged the shortfall in funds and said it is in discussions with the archdiocese to set up a new agreement that could include helping the sanctuary financially.

In 1923 and 1929 the Catholic Church held two campaigns to raise funds to launch the Christ the Redeemer project.

“Just as it was built with the help of the people,” said Raposo, “we want it to be maintained with the help of the people.”