September 7, 2007 / 4:02 PM / 12 years ago

Religious leaders unite in prayer on climate change

OSLO (Reuters) - Religious leaders united in a silent “prayer for the planet” alongside a retreating Greenland glacier on Friday as part of a widening spiritual drive to combat climate change.

A fishing boat sails past icebergs at the mouth of the Jakobshavn ice fjord near Ilulissat, Greenland, in this photo taken May 15, 2007. Religious leaders united in a silent "prayer for the planet" alongside a retreating Greenland glacier on Friday as part of a widening spiritual drive to combat climate change. REUTERS/Bob Strong

“In our small world we all need to struggle together,” said Sofie Petersen, the bishop of Greenland, of the meeting of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Christians aboard a cruise ship amid icebergs near Illulisat on the west coast.

Organizers said the prayer was to express common concern but stopping short of asking God to reverse the thaw. Such a request might have invited comparisons with the legendary vain attempt by 11th century English King Canute to stop the rising tide.

Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, led a two-minute silent prayer aboard the cruise ship in the iceberg-clogged fjord during a symposium he is leading called “The Arctic: Mirror of Life.”

Arctic ice has shrunk this year to the smallest on record and almost all experts say that greenhouse gases from human use of fossil fuels are behind a thaw of recent decades. Warming may also bring rising seas, floods, erosion and desertification.

“We have duties towards our fellow men, but also duties to the whole of creation,” said Rene-Samuel Sirat, a former chief Rabbi of France who was among about 200 participants.

“This prayer is a recognition that we have spoiled the earth and we now need to rectify this by changing our lifestyles,” said Musharraf Hussein, a British Muslim leader. “We seek the help of our creator to acquire the strength and ability to make the necessary changes.”


Pope Benedict gave his backing to the Greenland symposium on Wednesday in a new appeal for protection of the environment, saying issues such as climate change had become gravely important for the entire human race.

During the prayer, which ended with singing by an Inuit choir, the loudest sound was the lapping of water on icebergs in the fjord, participants said.

The North Atlantic island of Greenland has enough ice to raise world sea levels by about 7 meters (23 ft) if it all melted in coming millennia, swamping small island states and vast stretches of coast from Bangladesh to Florida.

Scientists attending the symposium will also explain research into the melt, which is putting pressure on indigenous hunting cultures and wildlife such as polar bears and seals.

“It’s remarkable how little ice there is now compared to when I was here a couple of years ago,” said Grete Hovelsrud, of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. “The rate of change has accelerated a lot and people are wondering ‘what is going on?’

“This event sends the message that climate change is upon us and we are all responsible,” said Aqqaluk Lynge, the head of Greenland’s Inuit population. “We must stop harming creation. At this point Inuit philosophy meets all other religions.”

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