Orthodox Christian urges religions to save planet

OSLO, Norway — The spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians urged religious leaders on Wednesday to do more to protect the environment, saying time was running short to save what they view as God's creation.

"We are losing time, and the longer we wait the more difficult and irreparable the damage," Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew told a news conference in Oslo, where he received a $100,000 environment prize.

Often known as the "Green Patriarch," Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, said that religious leaders should urge people to respect rather than plunder the planet's resources. "Religious leaders can play an important role for the environment. (They) can influence their followers — Christians, Jews, or Muslims — inspiring and guiding their faithful towards ecological awareness," he said.

He did not say which nations he believed were the worst environmental offenders. The United Nations will stage a summit in Johannesburg in August on ways to curb poverty while protecting the environment.

Some religious believers, especially in rich nations, justify their high use of fossil fuels as an exploitation of resources given by God to help humankind.

Bartholomew urged a longer-term view. "We have to protect the environment and think of coming generations.... of the continuation of the presence of human beings as the true kings of creation on the planet," he said.


Bartholomew's patriarchate is based in the Turkish city of Istanbul, a throwback to when the city, formerly Constantinople, was capital of the medieval Byzantine Empire. He is spiritual leader of 14 autonomous Orthodox churches. He has arranged international environmental conferences highlighting pollution in the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Danube River, and the Adriatic Sea. The Baltic Sea will come under the spotlight next year.

On Monday he signed a joint declaration with Pope John Paul, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, that included a call for more ecological awareness.

On Wednesday in Oslo, Bartholomew collected the so-called Sophie Prize. The prize was set up by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder who wrote the 1990s runaway bestseller Sophie's World, a novel and teenagers' guide to philosophy. Bartholomew said he would split the prize money between U.N. programs for poor children in Africa and a conference about the state of the Baltic Sea.