Pope Francis has, since the beginning of his pontificate and especially after his encyclical Laudato Si', championed care for the environment. He declared 1 September World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in 2015. Mike Pothier takes a look at his short message for 2018 which focuses on an all too precious resource: water.
In 2015 Pope Francis declared 1 September to be World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation in the Catholic Church, allying it with the Orthodox Church, which has marked the same day since 1989. This year, as usual, the Pope has released a short message, the theme of which is particularly apposite for us in drought-prone southern Africa: Water.
The message highlights various aspects of this most vital resource, and shows us how water pervades our lives spiritually, physically, and politically.
Francis notes that water is at once a simple and a precious resource, but one to which too many people lack access; this offends against a basic human right. We in South Africa, with our regular droughts and uncertainty of supply, are only too familiar with this. At the moment, even though Cape Town seems finally to be shaking off the effects of successive dry winters, the situation in the Karoo and parts of the Eastern Cape remains desperate. And the poor, who cannot afford to install water tanks or to buy bottled water, are suffering most. All indications are that this is likely to be the dominant weather pattern in years to come – and yet we are not doing nearly enough to secure alternative sources of supply for the most vulnerable of our people.
Reflecting that the human body is mostly composed of water, the Pope invokes the Franciscan image of “Sister Water, simple and useful for life like nothing else on our planet” to emphasise how this is a gift to be shared freely, not to be hoarded or turned into a source of profit: “every privatization of the natural good of water, at the expense of the human right to have access to this good, is unacceptable.”
Spiritually, in baptism, water is “the blessed source of undying life,” while Jesus himself offered “a water capable of quenching human thirst for ever.” But if we are to respond to this gift, to “drink from Jesus,” then we must also respond to his plea that “his thirst be quenched” in our “concrete choices and […] constant commitment to ensure to all the primary good of water.”
Then Francis turns to one of his signature concerns with a short but most profound discourse on the seas and oceans: “Let us pray that waters may not be a sign of separation between peoples, but of encounter for the human community. Let us pray that those who risk their lives at sea in search of a better future may be kept safe.” We think immediately of those whose desperation drives them to risk crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy, overcrowded vessels, and how for them water is so often a source of death rather than life. But of course it is precisely because some rich nations maintain their waters as “signs of separation” that this is so.
What we need is a “generous and farsighted responsibility and […] a spirit of cooperation, especially among those countries most able to help.” And this is needed not only in matters of migration, but also in the face of climate change and in striving for everyone to enjoy access to primary goods, such as water.
The message ends with a note of concern for the younger generation, “that they may grow in knowledge and respect for our common home and in the desire to care for the essential good of water, for the benefit of all.” Here we hear an echo from the sub-title of Francis’ great environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’ – the notion of ‘our common home’, and indeed the whole message reiterates some of the central themes of the Church’s social teaching: the common good, solidarity between rich and poor, and our duty of stewardship and “respectful care” to the created world.