In his travels over the years, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired archbishop of Washington, has visited tsunami survivors in South Asia and Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. He has journeyed to places like China and Saudi Arabia to promote religious freedom and dialogue, and visited refugees in wartorn places like Rwanda and Bosnia. In recent months has visited the Holy Land many times to work with religious leaders there in promoting a just peace in that region.

But in September, Cardinal McCarrick boarded a ship at Greenland, a country he had never visited before, and joined other religious leaders in a silent prayer before one of the natural wonders of the world, the Ilulissat glacier, a mountain of ice almost one mile high and three miles wide that scientists say has been rapidly melting in recent years.

"They call the Arctic the mirror of the world... What's happening there will affect the rest of the world" just as what happens in the Amazon has global consequences, the cardinal said in a recent interview.

Cardinal McCarrick traveled to Greenland to represent Pope Benedict XVI at a conference of scientific and religious leaders called by the Orthodox patriarch of Constantin-ople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to witness first-hand the consequences of global warming. The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that the ice of the Ilulissat glacier "is flowing at a rate of nearly seven feet an hour." The Orthodox leader has also convened similar gatherings of religious leaders and scientists at the Amazon and at heavily polluted waterways of Eastern Europe.

With the towering mountain of ice looming nearby and surrounded by floating icebergs that had broken away from the glacier, the religious leaders - including representatives of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths - paused together to pray.

"We are obliged to be good stewards of our world, to be good stewards of creation," Cardinal McCarrick said after the gathering.

In Greenland, he delivered a personal message of support from the Holy Father, who said, "Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family."

The Catholic News Service reported that Pope Benedict, in a message to the ecumenical patriarch, called on every individual to "take seriously the responsibility" of safeguarding the environment, and he warned against "spiritual alienation from creation" and a distance from God that impacts other people and the environment as a whole. "The consequences of disregard for the environment cannot be limited to an immediate area or population because they always harm human coexistence, and thus betray human dignity and violate the rights of citizens who desire to live in a safe environment," he said, calling on individuals, nations and businesses to face the problem. At his general audience in Rome that week, Pope Benedict added, "I invite all of you to join me in praying and working for greater respect for the wonders of God's creation!"

Cardinal McCarrick read the pope's statement to the gathering. "They were moved by it. It put our Church and our leadership very strongly in the line of protecting the environment," the cardinal said.

\A key concern is that the melting glaciers and ice caps around the world could lead to shortages of drinking water and in future centuries could cause severe coastal flooding in Third World countries like Bangladesh and in developed areas like New York City and cities in Florida. Such flooding could also wreak havoc on the Chesapeake Bay region, the cardinal added. Some scientists predict that sea levels around the world could rise two to three feet over the next century, and in centuries to come could rise by more than 20 feet. Many scientists point to man-made greenhouse gases as the key cause of global warming.

"The great sufferers will always be the poor, who can't move," said Cardinal McCarrick, who at one point disembarked with the scientists and religious leaders and walked a couple miles through Greenland's rocky terrain to witness "a huge river of ice that is melting."

This past month, the Vatican's U.N. representative, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, echoed those points in an address to the United Nations. "...At its core, the environmental crisis is a moral challenge. It calls us to examine how we use and share the goods of the earth, and what we pass on to future generations," he said. "...We must consider how, in most countries today, it is the poor and the powerless who most directly bear the brunt of environmental degradation." He said personal commitment, and a solidarity among peoples, is needed to face the problem.

That same month, Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, the chairman of the U.S. bishops' international policy committee, joined other religious leaders in urging Congress to remember the poor as it tries to address the problem of global warming. "For us, the moral measure of legislation is how it protects 'the least among us'... in our nation and on the planet we share," the bishop said.

For Cardinal McCar-rick, silently praying to God before a mountain of ice and witnessing the signs of its melting convinced him all the more of the urgency of the problem. On a personal level, he encouraged people to read about the problem, to try and live less wasteful lives, and to encourage their leaders to cooperate on the issue and try and mitigate a potential calamity for the world's people, especially the poor.

"I left there more convinced the majority of scientists are right, and the world - we - really have to do something," he said.