Pope preaches to the converted and urges backpackers to save the world

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The Independent Online

Wearing green vestments, the Roman Catholic liturgical colour of hope, Pope Benedict XVI yesterday urged half a million youngsters to save the planet while there was still time.

It was, perhaps, a case of preaching to the converted. Most of the 500,000 crowd perched on a hillside near the Italian Adriatic city of Loreto had come with backpacks made of recyclable material. They had been eating their meals off bio-degradable plates and re-charging their mobile phones with a hand-cranked charger. When the Pope held Mass, there was an audible rustling as the eco-friendly masses turned the recycled paper pages of their prayer books.

Organisers of the event, in one of Italy's most hallowed shrines to the Virgin Mary, said they would plant enough trees to compensate for the carbon produced.

The pontiff, in a speech given to mark the Catholic Church's Save Creation Day, said: "New generations will be entrusted with the future of the planet, which bears clear signs of a type of development that has not always protected nature's delicate equilibriums. Before it is too late one must make courageous choices that can recreate a strong alliance between mankind and the earth. What is needed is a decisive 'yes' to the protection of creation and a strong commitment to reverse the trend that risks leading to situations of irreversible degradation."

Pope Benedict, who seems to have embarked on an environmental crusade, last week lambasting arsonists who set fierce forest fires that have ravaged Greece and Italy.

Since his election, the Vatican has moved to support environmental sustainability by joining a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions. The Holy See has also said it was installing photovoltaic cells Vatican City to convert sunlight into electricity.