In case you missed the United Nations’ World Water Day yesterday, you’re not alone. I did too, until Sr. Christina mentioned it at supper. It’s part of the Decade for Action—Water for Life, stretching from 2005 to 2015. Celebrated annually around a set theme, it’s meant to implement UN environmental resolutions adopted at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, raise consciousness surrounding the availability and quality of fresh water worldwide, offer resources for education and advocacy, and inform the world community about activities carried out by countries and organizations.
So what? With almost six feet of snow in Boston this winter, it’s hard to picture a water shortage anywhere. I can filter all the water I want. I have hot water for a shower. Can I be—am I—concerned about fresh water anywhere else? In the words of Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, “We shall not finally defeat AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, or any of the other infectious diseases that plague the developing world until we have also won the battle for safe drinking-water, sanitation and basic health care.” As we have seen in recent years, viruses and epidemics are not confined to developing nations or by any geographic boundaries.
Intrinsically related to this are social justice issues, especially economic ones, the very issues that religious communities, Vatican leaders, and episcopal (bishops’) conferences have directed our attention to over the past several years. When whole populations are at risk of losing sustainable living conditions because of exploitation and consumerism, we need to step back and ask a few questions of ourselves, our media, and our society. When my brand of bottled water becomes a status symbol, it’s time for a reality check. When our kids, media-induced, demand one brand over another (as one grandmother told me last year), it’s time to share with them what we really value as believers and set a different standard.
This year’s theme for World Water Day was “Water for Cities.” It’s safe to say that when the UN Water group picked it, a tsunami in Japan was not on their minds. The resulting water shortage not only in villages, but in hard hit cities like Sendai, makes such a theme worth pondering. If nothing else, we’re less likely to take what we have for granted.
The day before yesterday we received the first direct report from our Sendai community: “Water was restored to us after four days. For the first three days we went to get water at a well, standing for three or four hours in line to get our bottles filled with drinkable water. We receive two bottles and we give away one. Our good bishop came one day to bring us 60 liters of water. How moving it all is!”
Grace before meals has always been a part of my life, but it wasn’t until I entered religious life that I watched sisters bless themselves even before having a snack. Some, in what I considered fervor to the extreme, made the Sign of the Cross even before taking a sip of water. A few still do. While that isn’t part of my devotional life, I thought again this week of how it can well express a deep spiritual sense and profound gratitude for the creature that St. Francis called “Sister Water, so useful, humble, precious and pure” (Canticle of the Creatures).
It’s significant that our Japanese Daughters of St. Paul speak of their experience in communal terms. From their testimony about how they share, their concern for each other is clearly moved by sincere love: it’s not limited to their own needs alone, but empowers them to reach out to the wider community. Here’s how they describe the source of their compassion:
“We stay very willingly together: there is mutual comfort, support and aid. Each sister is doing whatever she can. Living this experience of sisterly love is so precious, and a gift we give each other throughout the enormous difficulties we are facing.
“Every new morning we repeat, ‘Lord, today too, you have given us life! Thank you!’
“We are in the month of March, and it is still cold like winter – for two days we have had a pretty heavy snowfall. It almost feels like we are being tormented. But we still have our house and our sisters, and above all the Lord is with us.
“In the city more than 7,000 people have perished. The refugees already number 350,000. They have lost their loved ones and their homes, and now in addition to these great catastrophes, atomic radiation is threatening. It will take a long time to recover from this. We live in the hope that the reading from St. Paul spoke of in this morning’s Liturgy [2Tm. 1:8b-10].
“Once again we thank you with all our hearts for keeping near to us with your concern.”
This is the water of life.
As I mentioned in last week’s blog post, if you would like to financially support the ministry of the Daughters of St. Paul that will evolve over the months ahead, assist with their material needs, or help them plan for recovery, you can donate securely online at www.pauline.org, or send a check, made out to the Daughters of St. Paul, to my attention (Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP) at 50 St. Paul’s Ave. Boston, MA 02130. Questions? E-mail me at email@example.com or call me at 617-676-4423.
Regardless of what you may choose to do materially, we ask you to continue praying with us for the Japanese people. Prayer suggestions have been prepared by our sisters with audio and visual accompaniment, also at www.pauline.org.