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"If I am the only person who dreams it is only a dream, but if several of us live the same dream it can become a reality."
Brazilian proverb

The 'Black Sea in Crisis' was the second of a series of symposia on the general theme of 'Religion, Science and the Environment'. An objective of the first symposium was to bring the insights, knowledge, inspirational abilities, and methods of religion and science together to ensure that the natural world on which all life depends is protected from progressive deterioration, while human welfare increases. The second symposium became the natural place to identify specific actions that could be taken, with a particular focus on the Black Sea as a region and environment in crisis.

Held under the auspices of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and His Excellency Mr. Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, the second symposium took place from 20 to 28 September 1997 on board the F/B E. Venizelos. Over 400 participants were transported from the Black Sea ports of Trabzon, Batumi, Novorossiysk, Yalta, Odessa, Constanta, the Danube Delta and Varna, and on to Istanbul. The journey of over 1,000 nautical miles, through the lands and seas of 2,500 years of Greek colonies and the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, ended in Thessaloniki, the cultural capital of Europe for 1997.

In his introduction to the symposium, Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London, reminded participants that:

after the great flood described in the story of Noah, the threat of divine destruction of the earth was withdrawn and the rainbow was appointed as a sign of a 'covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.' Now it is a human rather than the divine threat to make the planet 'waste and void', which causes anxiety. This is the impulse which is bringing together scientists, people of faith and others concerned for the future of our planet to the fertile but heavily polluted Black Sea region.

The symposium brought together people from many different backgrounds and beliefs, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders from the Black Sea region as well as representatives of faiths from many other parts of the world. All the Patriarchs from the Black Sea region were present. Leaders from the region included presidents, vice-presidents and ministers of the environment, while prominent scientists participated bringing expertise at local, regional and international levels.

The symposium presented an opportunity for the Ecumenical Patriarch to visit his Church in five countries and to discuss his concerns about the Black Sea environment. He was able to emphasise the centrality of this issue and the leadership role of the Church. The symposium was also able to raise awareness among important religious and political leaders of the region and the European Union about the environmental crisis of the Black Sea and the threat from human activities.

One practical result of the symposium was the identification of the need to maintain the Black Sea Environmental Programme as a critical institution for implementing a plan of action for the region. At the same time, a broader understanding of the nature of the problem was identified and emphasised, specifically the contribution of the Danube River and its watershed to the environmental problems of the Black Sea. Intensive workshops held during the symposium also identified key actions for awareness and outreach, education, as well as capacity building and maintenance, including rebuilding the scientific capacity of the region. Interest in supporting capacity building was expressed by representatives of the European Union, the World Bank, and the Global Environmental Facility who were aboard the ship. Influential individuals who participated in the symposium also offered their help.

Specific educational actions for the region were identified. As a consequence of the symposium, plans have been developed for expanding and deepening the understanding of clergy on environmental problems and solutions. Teachers need opportunities and training for the informal exchange of information on environmental issues, while more formal meetings among ministers of the environment and education would support the development of educational materials and environmental education on the Black Sea.

Beyond specific proposals and with long-term significance has been the creation of a network of concerned individuals from the worlds of religion, science and the environment, whose collective creativity, energy, and influence can be used to amplify many times the inspiring message and mandate provided by the Ecumenical Patriarch. The use of this network of people to accomplish the goals of the symposium is our opportunity. Determining how to do this effectively, guided by scientifically and ethically sound principles, is our challenge.