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Saturday, 27 April 2019 15:37

Water, Water, Everywhere?

Written by Matt Rousso
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Matt Rousso - New Orleans Chapter

Wilton, a young unschooled boy, lives across the road from our community garden in the back corner of barrio Santa Ana in the town of Esquipulas, Guatemala. Wilton stays with his mother and father in a very simple two room house—it has only a single light bulb hanging in the front room and one water faucet, which seldom gives water, attached to a make-shift sink. Because of drought during most of the year, the municipality does not receive enough water from its source for all the inhabitants of Esquipulas, especially those who live on the outskirts. Wilton also has a 19-year-old sister, Wendy, who lives in an adjacent structure with her 2-year-old baby.

Photo from ModernSurvivalBlog.com.During a recent mission immersion program in Santa Ana, I was working in the garden with eight of our seminarians from St. Joseph Seminary in Covington, LA, along with Don Chencho, our gardener, and his young helper, Pablo. Several years ago we had to hand-dig a well in our garden because we could only get a little water from the nearby stream where women come daily to wash clothes. In the midst of the morning work, Wilton walked up to me shyly and handed me a folded piece of paper, saying it was de mi papa. I opened the paper and read the scribbled Spanish note, having to decipher some of the words which were badly misspelled. The letter was a heartfelt plea for help! 

“Dear brother Mateo and the other brothers. I make a cordial greeting in the name of Señor Jesús and our mother, always virgin María. The objective of the present (note) is to beg a favor that if you can give us water because my wife and children are dying of thirst because there is no water. Jesus says in his word that the one who gives a glass of water to these little ones makes it with me.  Signed: Catalino Vasquez, husband of Josefina Hernandez.” 

We immediately made provisions to get water from the well for Catalino and his family.

Since my return home, that moment in the garden has been in my mind and heart almost constantly. It has made me think a lot about water. I remembered that the first words of the Bible are about the presence of God in the waters of the earth:  “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen 1:2) And I’ve thought about the fact that before I was even born I lay in the waters of my mother’s womb for months.

In early March, the internet kept sending me messages about March 22nd being the day proclaimed by the UN and the Catholic Church as World Water Day. I learned a lot of random facts like: 

  • the human body is made of some 65 to 70 percent water
  • water covers 70.9 percent of the planet’s surface
  • 97% of Earth’s water is salt water; only 2.7% is drinkable
  • $0.002 per gallon is the average cost of US municipal tap water - 1/3 of what the world spends on bottled water in one year could pay for projects to provide water to everyone in need
  • there is about the same amount of water on Earth now as was millions of years ago
  • unsafe water kills 200 children every hour
  • 1.2 billion people worldwide have limited access to clean water.

Water is Such a Blessing! I have been thinking a lot about how blessed I am to have such easy access to clean water—we have some nine faucets in our house, and with most of them we can draw unlimited amounts of cold water or hot water; we have several flushable toilets; we can take refreshing showers whenever we want; we have enough water to cook with, to water the plants, to wash the floors, to brush our teeth, to drink day and night.  I feel so blessed!  At Notre Dame Seminary, just around the corner from our house, there is a beautiful sculpture of Jesus with the woman at the well; hearing Jesus in this Gospel story ask the woman for a drink of water makes me think of Catalino’s letter “…if you can give us water because my wife and children are dying of thirst?” Though I feel blessed and privileged to have easy access to an abundance of clean water, how can I not feel sad thinking of the more than a billion people like Catalino’s family who do not have such access.  How can I feel good knowing that children are dying every minute from unclean water?

While I appreciate and enjoy water in my corner of the world, I know that I must pay attention to the reality of the global water crisis. I must be concerned that so many of my brothers and sisters are not experiencing this blessing. Clean water has been a concern of the Church for quite some time:

...the Catholic Church was among the first major international institutions to defend the idea that access to fresh water is a fundamental human right, and it has enshrined this idea in authoritative teachings, such as the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” (NCR 4/20/18).  

Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, devoted a section of his encyclical On Care for Our Common Home: Laudato Sí to the issue of water (cf: LS #27-31). He says unequivocally:

...access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. (LS #30)

The water crisis is a right to life issue! He adds:

Our world has a grave social debt toward the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.

In many of his homilies and speeches, Pope Francis reiterates the need for the world community to make better use of our resources: to ensure that all peoples would share in the blessing of clean water. He, along with others, speaks about the growing threat that the shortage of water in undeveloped countries poses to the safety of peoples and the world as a whole. Some even say that the crisis over the shortage of water could be the cause of the next world war. Realizing just this one blessing of easy access to clean water (there are many other blessings we could acknowledge!), do we not see why so many impoverished people from undeveloped countries risk their lives trying to cross our borders to get into the land of plenty?

So What? In my reflections, I have been hearing the call to act more responsibly. This is a call to all of us in the developed world. So what does acting more responsibly look like? Pope Francis has named a few ideas in his writings and talks, such as:

We cannot sustain our present level of consumption; we must stop wasting and discarding; we need to attend to the pollution we are producing by certain mining, farming, and industrial activities … we must not turn water into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. (LS #29)

I am left with a number of haunting questions:

Make Connections:  Do I really believe that we live in a completely inter-dependent world, that what I do affects the common good? Should knowing about the exorbitant amount of water it takes to produce 1 pound of beef (1,799 gallons) affect my meat consumption? If tap water has been proven as safe as and significantly less expensive than bottled water, and doesn’t add great amounts of plastic which pollute our oceans, am I justified in my use of bottled water? Am I willing to examine the ramifications of my decisions?

Curb My Wastefulness of Water: Am I willing to change some of my daily actions in order not to waste so much water? Pope Francis keeps saying we have to make an “ecological conversion” (LS #216-221). Does that apply to me and the way that I waste water? The American Wildlife Foundation says, “every day, the average American family uses about 552 gallons of water compared to the average African family, which uses about 5 gallons of water a day.”  What can I do to stop using so much water? [Consider “20 Ways to Conserve Water  https://www.care2.com/greenliving/20-ways-to-conserve-water-at- home.html]

Be a Provider:  Catalino asked me to provide water for his family. Am I being asked by more of my brothers and sisters in the world to provide them with water? Should I not connect with and donate to organizations working to provide water to people in other parts of the world?   [See 5 Nonprofits Make Clean Water Global Reality.]

Appreciate and Enjoy! Maybe one of the most important things I am being called to do is to stop taking water for granted—to take my time as I drink water, or wash with it, or water my garden. Is there a call here: to better appreciate water and to really enjoy it?

I’ll never forget how impressed I was when I first read Laudato Sí and heard Pope Francis quoting the bishops of Brazil, who said, “Nature as a whole not only manifests God but is also a locus (the place) of God’s presence” (LS #88).  Sort of reminds me of that quote from Genesis:

God’s Spirit is still hovering over the waters!

Abridged from: Spirit Whisperings #9, by Matt Rousso, March 25, 2019


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