Provided by Union of Catholic Asian News,
PR5430.1075 April 20, 2000 57 EM-lines (607 words)


MANILA (UCAN) -- The Orthodox "patriarch of patriarchs," known in Europe for his commitment to environmental concerns, donated US$10,000 for a seminar on rivers in the Philippines while visiting his Church's newest Asian flock.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople announced the gift to the government during a five-day trip to the Philippines, where most of the 12 Orthodox parishes and missions are on the northern island of Luzon.

In Manila he received an honorary degree from the Vincentian Fathers' Adamson University for his "work in the field of ecology and his achievements in working for peace and harmony among people of different ethnic groups."

University president Vincentian Father Jaime Belita cited Patriarch Bartholomew' efforts for peace in Kosovo.

The patriarch told theologians, environmentalists and journalists during a breakfast March 3 that he had encouraged Philippine President Joseph Estrada to organize a conference on ecology to promote people's responsibility in protecting nature and promoting peace.

"The Orthodox Church accepts that God created the world very good, and that the poor functions of nature are the results of the disobedience of man to the true path," said the patriarch.

Human greed and egocentrism are the source of the plunder and destruction of natural resources, he said, adding that he hopes Filipinos would become more aware of their obligation to protect the environment.

The Philippine mission is the youngest member of the Church's metropolitanate for Hong Kong and Southeast Asia that includes missions in China, India, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

Patriarch Bartholomew, 60, arrived in Manila March 2 from South Korea after celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Orthodox Church in Korea. His Manila trip that included a brief visit with Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila was the Orthodox leader's first visit to the Philippines.

The patriarch said he wanted to spend time with the three Filipino Orthodox priests: Fathers Philemon Castro, Aurelio Velasquez and Vicentius, a 56-year-old former Catholic priest.

Father Velazquez who is a married with five children and a teacher at the state University of the Philippines, was ordained in South Korea in 1996.

Aside from parishes in Paranaque and Laguna, south of Manila, and Masbate, in the north-central Philippines, the community also supports three chapels, six mission stations, a school and a monastery with four nuns.

The Orthodox Church in the Philippines claims 520 Filipino members. They are joined in services by about 50 Greek or Russian expatriates.

"Fear not little flock ... neither fear your small size, nor the war of the enemy, nor the reactions of any people or other cause. I love you. I love you very much," Patriarch Bartholomew told guests at a farewell dinner March 6.

Metropolitan Nikitas Lulias, head of the Orthodox Church of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, responded by asking the patriarch to continue praying for the people of Asia now going through difficult times.

Orthodox Church members from various Asian countries except China joined their patriarch in Manila.

According to a 1997 Orthodox Church report, its parish of Porkov in Harbin, northeastern China, with 18 parishioners and a 75-year-old priest were all that was left of a large Russian Orthodox community in the country 50 years ago. The youngest parishioner in 1997 was reportedly 65 years old.

Patriarch Bartholomew consecrated the Annunciation of the Theotokos (God-bearer) Church in Paranaque during a four-hour service on Sunday March 5, the first church consecrated by the ecumenical patriarch in Southeast Asia.

The patriarch became head of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Istanbul, in 1991. His office is seen as one of unity among the 15 autocephalous (self-governing under its own bishop) Churches that comprise the Orthodox Church.