Patriarch writes from Istanbul to support preserving Hellenic Hill in JP

By Matt Rocheleau, Town Correspondent
26/4/2011

An effort to save a 12.5-acre undeveloped Boston oasis has received a significant blessing from a religious leader nearly 5,000 miles away who was described by 60 Minutes as “one of the world’s most important Christian leaders, second only to the pope.”

In February, the Jamaica Plain-based Community Caring Institute wrote the leader of the Orthodox Christian Church who lives in Turkey asking that he support their efforts to preserve woodlands owned by, and recently considered for sale by, Hellenic College, a Greek Orthodox Christian school on a 59-acre campus straddling the border of Brookline and JP.

The institute’s director and neighborhood activist Gerry Wright said Monday the group received a response from His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome earlier this month.

Replying to the group’s correspondence, the religious leader known for his environmental activism and nicknamed the “Green Patriarch” expressed support for preserving Hellenic Hill in JP, Wright said.

“When I picked up the letter at the mailbox and it said it was from Istanbul, I couldn’t believe it,” said Wright Monday by phone.

While the letter was “clearly not a promise” by the patriarch to ensure the land would not be developed or sold to developers, Wright said “he felt very positive” about the response. He said he also received a follow-up letter from New York City-based Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, who chairs the college’s trustee board.

School spokesman John Papson said Tuesday he was aware of the communication sent from both the patriarch and archbishop but had not seen the text either letter. Officials at the archbishop’s office in New York referred requests for comment to the college.

Wright said copies of the letters his group has received will be available at a community forum to discuss “visions, reflections, ideas and concerns” about the hill’s future at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the First Church on Eliot Street.

The plot along Prince Street and overlooking Jamaica Pond was listed for sale by the college in January with an $18-million asking price. Some residents and groups fear the property may be bought from the college by someone eyeing to develop the valuable piece of real estate.

“The beauty of Hellenic Hill … is [when you’re there] you feel as if you’re in Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont,” said Wright, who is also the founder and president of Friends of Jamaica Pond.

The friends group has also launched an online petition to “Save Jamaica Pond’s Watershed” that now boasts over 800 signatures.

Wright said the hope is that by combining city, state, private organization and community members’ funds, the land that has been threatened by development three times in the past can be purchased from the college for permanent preservation.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.

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