Sept. 7, 2007 — -- Religious leaders from all over the world met at the mouth of a melting glacier in Greenland today to say a silent prayer for the planet, appealing to mankind to address the impact that humanity is having on life on Earth.
A group of nearly 200 scientists, theologians and government officials sailed into the ice fields of the Illulissat Icefjord, the largest glacier in Greenland that is bearing the brunt of global warming.
Watch a video of Bill Blakemore's tour of the ice wonders of Greenland here.
The pope delivered a message via video from the Vatican while religious leaders of Christian, Jewish and Islamic faiths prayed silently.
"We're all in awe of this spectacle," said Neal Ascherson, a spokesperson for Religion, Science and the Environment (RSE), the group coordinating the event.
Ascherson spoke to ABC News from the boat while the prayer began.
"We're in the engine room of the globe," he said. "This is where the world's climate has been created for thousands of years. And I think everybody is moved by the overwhelming importance and ominousness of what we're seeing. You can see (the glacier) facilitate to climate change."
The polar pilgrimage into the Arctic is part of a weeklong symposium put on by RSE, a non-governmental organization based in Greece.
Funded by private, corporate and Greek government donors, the event will bring together scientists and religious leaders to address major environmental issues, and ways in which humanity can deal with them, Ashcerson said. The seventh RSE symposium, this year's will focus on climate change in the Arctic.
"I think this will be a great moment," Cardinal Thomas McCarrick told ABC News about the prayer from Washington, D.C., on his way to Greenland.
McCarrick was sent by the Pope to represent the Catholic Church.
"Whatever denomination we are we will try to proclaim loud and clear that we should, we must pay attention to the water resources and climate change," he said.
Greenland is of particular concern to scientists because glaciers are melting at an alarming rate. About 9 percent of the world's fresh water and 21 feet of global sea level rise is locked in the country's ice sheet.
In addition to the Illulissat Icefjord, the Jakobshavn glacier is of particular concern. Known as the "galloping glacier," the volume of ice breaking off it has doubled in the last few years. Scientists say that ice holding enough water to supply all New York City for a year now races away from the glacier in a day.
The big question scientists are now asking, especially since the Jakobshavn glacier and others like it around the edge of Greenland have sped up so much in the past three years, is whether this is the beginning of what they call a "collapse" of the entire Greenland ice sheet. If it is, it has enormous implications for sea level rise around the world.
"The problem is that civilization developed with a stable sea level, and a large fraction of people live within several meters elevation of sea level," said James Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA. "We would be talking about hundreds of millions of people displaced if sea level goes up a few meters. So we really can't afford to go down that path."
Science and Religion in Agreement?
At a time when religion and science are often at odds -- from stem cell research to evolution -- many say the willingness for scientific and religious institutions to work together to bring about change in human behavior is unprecedented.
"I don't think we have any differences on this," McCarrick said. "Every religion realizes that this world is a gift from God and we have to reserve it."
The Roman Catholic Church, criticized in the past for its stance on man's use of nature, is especially concerned with how global warming will affect the world's poor.
The United Nations has predicted that land lost to rising sea levels, intensified storms and rising food prices due to droughts and floods caused by climate change will make the world's poor the most vulnerable.
"Global warming will be an enormous cost for them, and we have to make sure that this doesn't happen," McCarrick said.
Last year in the United States, 86 evangelical Christian leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, backed a major initiative to fight global warming. But they weren't met entirely with consensus.
In January 2006, some of the nation's top evangelical leaders sent a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals asking its members not to take a stance on global warming, The New York Times reported.
McCarrick will travel with leading scientists and religious leaders, including Bishop Sophie Peterson of the Danish National Church, Rabbi Soetendorp from the Netherlands, and a senior figure of the Orthodox patriarch, to meet with leading scientists who are experts on the subject of climate change. They will also meet with the government and indigenous people of Greenland to hear how global warming has already affected their way of life.
The symposium, organizers say, will produce recommendations from theologians that will be addressed at an environmental conference in December.