Orthodox leader's New Orleans visit highlights environmental challenge

By agency reporter
October 27, 2009

The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has made a return visit to the Lower Ninth Ward District of New Orleans, US, to survey the recovery and restoration efforts of the wetland area in Bayou Bienvenue.

In January 2006, the Ecumenical Patriarch travelled to New Orleans to witness the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and to pray with the people of New Orleans.

The Orthodox leader’s visit this week has been part of his continuing advocacy for the protection of the environment – a commitment which is being highlighted among many faith leaders at the Eighth Religion, Science and Environment Symposium, entitled ‘Restoring Balance: The Great Mississippi River,’ convened in New Orleans.

Upon his arrival in the area, the Patriarch walked up a platform overlooking the wetlands and was briefed by local officials on the work of the coastal restoration of the bayou and the re-building of the levees, which would prevent storm waves, allowing trees and other vegetation to flourish again in the area.

“We are here again to pray for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and their families and to express our solidarity with the people of New Orleans. We shall also continue to pray and work for the protection of the natural environment,” the Orthodox leader declared to local officials, conservationists and residents of the area.

“God compelled you to come and stand with us in our fight to restore the natural environment in this area, which is part of God’s creation,” responded City of New Orleans councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis as she thanked Bartholemew for his visit and his prayers.

The Ecumenical Patriarch then went near the waters of the bayou and with other clergy chanted the hymn of the Epiphany. He also toured the area where the levees had broken in the hurricane and met with local residents who have only recently moved back.

Earlier in the day on 21 October, Bartholemew had conducted a memorial service at the St Louis Cemetery Number Three, for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and also in memory of the late Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North & South America, whose patron saint’s day coincided with the occasion, according to the Orthodox Christian liturgical calendar.

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