The highest spiritual authority of the Orthodox Church of the World, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, has praised participants of an IUCN Workshop on the Protection of Sacred Lands being held in Ouranoupolis, Greece.
Patriarch Bartholomew Salutes sent a message of congratulation and encouragement to the workshop, organized by the IUCN Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas.
“It is with great interest that we learned of the workshop you are organizing in the framework of IUCN - The World Conservation Union,” he said. “Its purpose is very close to our interests. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been teaching a responsible role of human beings towards Creation as its stewards and protectors”.
The workshop is taking place near Mount Athos, a World Heritage Site and one of the most renowned cultural and natural places on Earth, where spiritual and natural values have worked together for many centuries to model a unique landscape with high biodiversity and cultural values.
Father Gregorios, of the Mount Athos monastic community, said: “The Creator does not allow people to worship the Creation on the one hand and use it unsustainably on the other hand. The Monastic Community of Mount Athos, having adopted this philosophy, avoids every kind of environmental abuse and utilizes only the part of the natural resources that is strictly necessary”.
IUCN, through the Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas of the World Commission on Protected Areas, works to support the protection of sacred sites of indigenous and traditional peoples, as well of sacred and holy lands of religious and faith groups of the world. For this purpose, the Task Force created programmes such as The Delos Initiative, a programme named after an island with important cultural and spiritual values for the Greek civilization.
Sacred sites and holy lands make a very important contribution to the conservation of nature. Exact numbers are not known because they don’t figure in any inventory, don’t make part of protected area networks and in many cases don’t belong to cultural heritage areas. It is believed, however, that hundreds of thousands of such and places exist on the planet, safeguarding very often critical ecosystems and securing key ecological functions. They are often at the centre of cultural values and institutions of communities and peoples.
Rob Wild, Leader of the IUCN Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, said: “We as part of the conservation community highly appreciate the important contribution that faith communities are making to the planet through their caring for lands and places they deem holy. We are also concerned, however, that some communities are facing difficult conditions to continue with their stewardship of nature. We dedicate our efforts to support the improvement of management of their sacred and holy lands, and we promote better recognition of their significance by the conservation community, government authorities and intergovernmental bodies.”
At the meeting, experiences from Mount Athos, Jabal Lâ’lam în Morocco, the San Francisco Peaks of California, Mani San Mount in Korea, Solovetsky Islands of Russia, Foreste Casentinesi of Italy, Dhimurru in northern Australia, Poblet in Catalonia, Spain, and the Chryssopigi Monastery in Crete, Greece, are examined. Based on such experiences, the group discusses options to strengthen protection of such areas and other similar places, and explores what role IUCN and the conservation community can play.
“IUCN has become a key player in the effort to protect sacred sites and holy lands of the planet”, said Gonzalo Oviedo, IUCN Senior Adviser on Social Policy, facilitator of IUCN’s actions in this area. “We run projects in the field with custodians of sacred places, we support them at the policy level, we advocate for their recognition and support, we promote better understanding of their values”, he added. “From the ground up, working from place to place, we are building bridges with custodians of sacred lands of indigenous and traditional peoples as well as of religious and monastic communities. Alliances between many such groups and conservation are based on strong common values and a shared commitment for the planet”.
The workshop is hosted by Med-INA, the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos, based in Athens. Thymio Papayannis, Med-INA director, hopes that the workshop will prompt increased commitment by a range of actors in Greece and throughout the world.
“The IUCN World Conservation Congress, to be held in Barcelona in October 2008, is a great opportunity for us to bring to the attention of the international conservation community the values and contributions of the sacred and holy lands, and the need to support spiritual and faith communities in their management”, he said. “We will bring custodians of such places to communicate to the Congress their hopes, expectations and commitments.”