Russian Patriarch strolls with penguins on Antarctica trip

18th February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Patriarch Kirill has made a first ever visit by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to Antarctica, praying with polar explorers at its wooden church and strolling with penguins.

Kirill arrived in Antarctica late Wednesday Moscow time and visited Russia's Bellingshausen research station on the island of Waterloo, the Church said in a statement.

At the station's onion-domed Holy Trinity Church, he held prayers for polar researchers including 64 Russians who have died on polar expeditions, Thursday's statement said.

The Russian Orthodox church, which opened in 2004, is the only one on the continent to hold services all year round with priests spending the winter there.

"Here you are at the end of the planet," the patriarch said, quoted by RIA Novosti state news agency.

"When I blessed water in the Antarctic today, I thought about the whole Earth that is below us and prayed for God's creation."

Kirill also took a boat trip to a penguin colony, a bright red life jacket strapped over his black robes.

He walked among penguins tending young chicks, some of which chased him with their flippers outstretched, a video released by the Church shows.

A photograph of the 69-year-old patriarch kneeling eye-to-eye with a curious penguin swiftly went viral on social networking sites.

Russia has 10 research stations on the Antarctic, some of which operate only in summer, able to accommodate up to 120 people.

About 30 nations operate permanent research stations in Antarctica including the United States Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina.

Kirill was on a tour of South America that included a historic meeting with Pope Francis in Cuba, the first encounter between the heads of the long-estranged Churches in nearly 1,000 years.

© 2016 AFP

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