Swiss seek Pope's blessing to stop glacier melting

ZURICH Thu Aug 6, 2009 11:25am EDT

Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps is seen on August 18, 2007. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps is seen on August 18, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

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ZURICH (Reuters) - After centuries of praying for a local glacier to stop growing, Swiss villagers are now seeking an audience with Pope Benedict to get his blessing for prayers against the global warming that is causing it to recede.

In 1678, the inhabitants of the Alpine villages of Fieschertal and Fiesch made a formal vow to live virtuously and to pray against the growth of the Aletsch glacier, Europe's longest, which had caused a lake to flood into their homes.

To reinforce their prayers, they started holding an annual procession in 1862, when the glacier reached its longest during the mini-Ice Age Europe suffered in the mid-19th century.

But the villages now want to seek permission from Pope Benedict to change their vow as the glacier is melting fast due to climate change and have requested an audience with him.

"The residents of Fiesch and Fischertal hope that this will happen in September or October and are optimistic that the Holy Father will decide in their favor as he has repeatedly spoken out about climate change," they said in a statement.

Switzerland's glaciers shrank by 12 percent over the past decade, melting at their fastest rate due to rising temperatures and lighter snowfalls, a recent study showed.

Glaciers are a key source of water for hydro-electric plants in Switzerland as well as an important tourist attraction.

Researchers are predicting that the temperatures in the Swiss Alps will rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius in winter and by 2.7 degrees Celsius in the summer by 2050.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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