Opening Address of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Symposium The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance’
It is with great pleasure that we welcome you all to the
official opening of Symposium VIII, entitled “The Great Mississippi River”.
This Symposium is in many ways both historical and unique. This river
comprises a microcosm of our planet. In its waters, we observe many of the
world’s ecological issues. We are humbled in its presence. We have come to
listen to its story, to learn from its history.
Let us consider our own presence on this great river.
As the Mississippi links the prairies to the sea, we ourselves form the link
between the past and the future. Science has developed a theory to explain the
beginning of the Universe almost 14 billion years ago, the beginning of simple
life forms some 4 billion years ago and the birth of human beings a mere 160,000
Although the time we have been on the planet is insignificant in the context
of the life of the planet itself, we have reached a defining moment in our
We have expanded our dominion over Nature to the point where absolute limits
to our survival are being reached. We have lost half of the great forests of the
world to the demand for timber and for conversion to agriculture, without
thinking that these giant wet sponges are responsible for the delivery of much
of the fresh water.
Irrigation for agriculture takes 70% of global demand for water, and – almost
unimaginably – some of the world’s greatest rivers are so depleted by the
influence of humans that they no longer flow to the sea; and those that do,
carry in their waters all the chemical fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and
waste materials they have collected along their course. Desertification is
increasing on land at the same time that the fish stocks of the oceans are
depleted by over exploitation; and those that remain are being poisoned by toxic
materials dumped carelessly in their habitat. Instead of living on income, or
the available surplus of the earth, we are consuming environmental capital and
destroying its sources as if there is no tomorrow.
The dilemmas we are faced with are the problems created by human beings.
Having struggled for centuries to escape from the tyranny of hunger, disease,
and want, the technological advances of the last half century have created the
illusion of us being in control of our destiny as never before. 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. Wealth generated in the developed world has not put an end to
suffering. Technological achievements were not able to contain the wrath of
nature witnessed in this area only four years ago. The explosion of knowledge
has not been accompanied by an increase in wisdom. Only wisdom could make us
realize that the Creation is an interdependent, undivided whole, not an
assemblage of isolated, unrelated parts that can be eliminated, replaced or
modified as we see fit. Even the smallest human intervention, even the minutest
change in the natural order brought about by human action can have – and does
have - long term devastating effects on the planet.
In addition to seeking balance between ourselves and our environment, we need
to find balance within ourselves, reassessing our values as well as what is
valuable. Let us remember that whoever we are, we all have our part to play, our
sacred responsibility to the future. And let us remember that our responsibility
grows alongside our privileges; we are more accountable the higher we stand on
the scale of leadership. Our successes or failures, personal and collective,
determine the lives of billions. Our decisions, personal and collective,
determine the future of the planet.
As we look at this great river and explore the challenges faced by local
communities, let us search for solutions from the perspective of Faith, mindful
that we are all in the same fragile boat of life – that we are living defining
moments in history, and that we are living them together in Truth, in Love, in
Hope and above all, in Responsibility.
Information on the Ecumenical Patriarch and his visit to the U.S. can also be
found online at: www.usvisit2009.org and on the Mississippi
symposium at: www.rsesymposia.org