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Associated Press Modified: October 21, 2009 at 3:43 pm •  Published: October 21, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) It is the religious duty of Orthodox Christians to protect an environment harmed by natural disasters and society's modern way of life, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said here on Wednesday (Oct. 21).

''We are living in a moment in history when we must work for solutions in faith, in love, in hope, and in responsibility," said Bartholomew, who is spiritual leader of nearly 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Speaking from a balcony overlooking the Mississippi River, the subject of a week-long conference of religious, political and academic leaders convened by the patriarch, Bartholomew kicked off the event by saying that the river is in need of repair — just as the city is.

''The river is a microcosm of our planet," he said. "In the water we observe many of the world's ecological issues."

It is the eighth time Bartholomew — known as the "green patriarch" because of his interest in the intersection of faith and the environment — has convened a conference on the problems facing major bodies of water. Previous gatherings have centered on issues facing the Aegean Sea, the Danube River and the Arctic Ocean.

Bartholomew's stop here is part of an apostolic visit to the United States that lasts until Nov. 6. He has already visited Memphis, Tenn., and heads to Atlanta, New York and Washington, after New Orleans.

The religious leader, based out of Istanbul, has brought worldwide attention to metro New Orleans' post-Hurricane Katrina recovery. He visited the city just four months after the catastrophic flood and told residents rebuilding and gutting their homes, "Your pain was and is our pain. It was felt by all humanity."

After arriving on Tuesday, Bartholomew issued a statement saying, "We return so that we might bear witness to the hope that is in you, the hope you have manifested through the rebuilding (of) your lives and your community."

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