The 'Pope' of Hope

June 18, 2008

Author: Riazat Butt

Source: The Guardian

For the many pilgrims who stream into the lavishly decorated Church of St George, Istanbul, it is the crystal chandeliers, incense clouds, iconography and sombre, chanting, enigmatic bishops dressed in black that are the main attraction of a little-known district in the throbbing Turkish metropolis.

Yet this cathedral holds far greater significance than photo opportunities and a sliver of Christendom in a Muslim-majority country. Around the corner from dusty cafes and tat shops, up a cobbled street, you come to the office of one of the most influential figures in the fight against climate change and world poverty.

His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians and 270th successor to the Apostle Andrew. He is also extremely green, taking heads of church and state to areas beset with environmental problems - the Amazon and Arctic among them - and confronting them with the best science.

After announcing, on an Aegean island, that attacks on the environment should be considered sins, he called pollution of the world's waters "a new Apocalypse" and led global calls for "creation care".

The 68-year-old archbishop, sitting behind his desk, popping artificial sweetener into a grainy espresso, is modest about his achievements, which, through the annual environmental symposia attended by the great and the good, include pressuring Brazilian soya traders into declaring a moratorium on crops from newly deforested land in the Amazon, and lobbying the Albanian government to clean up toxic waste dumped in Porto Romano on the Adriatic coast.