Orthodox leader calls for environmental action

October 23, 2009
By The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — Standing beside the Mississippi River, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, made a plea Wednesday for more action to save the planet and stop destroying it "as if there is no tomorrow."

"The dilemmas we are faced with are the problems created by human beings," Bartholomew said at the opening of an environmental symposium in New Orleans. "We are consuming environmental capital and destroying its sources as if there is no tomorrow.

"We have cracked the code of DNA, we can create life in test tubes, we can genetically modify crops, we can put men upon the moon — but we have lost our balance, externally and within."

The Istanbul-based patriarch, whom former Vice President Al Gore has called the "green patriarch," brought a delegation of Orthodox church leaders to New Orleans, where they planned to visit neighborhoods flooded by Hurricane Katrina and take a trip up the Mississippi, where oil refineries and chemical plants dwarf rural communities and light up the night sky with burning flares.

Bartholomew came to New Orleans in January 2006 after Katrina flooded New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, and prayed for the storm's victims during a visit to the Lower 9th Ward, one of the city's neighborhoods hit hard by the hurricane.

Also Wednesday, the Archbishop Demetrios of America, the Greek Orthodox Church's leader in the United States, called attention to the troubled state of New Orleans and the Mississippi.

"This glorious river through the years has become heavily polluted, causing grave damage to both the land and the Gulf far beyond its basin," Demetrios said. "There is a concerted effort to reverse the damaging course of pollution and return to the pristine clarity of the waters, but restoration is not easy."

Since 1995, Bartholomew has brought attention to the world's environmental problems with a series of forums billed as the Religion, Science and The Environment symposia. The New Orleans event, titled "The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance," was the eighth forum overseen by Bartholomew.