Water is a common good intended for the entire human family says the Vatican. We also must renew our understanding of the good life

La Croix 19 April 2020

“Water is a common good whose wise administration contributes to the common good of the human family,” emphasizes the Vatican and Vinciguerra, from the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, with regard to a new document titled, Aqua fons vitae (Water, Source of Life), made public on March 30.

Assumption Sister Cécile Renouard is an economist with a doctorate in political philosophy. Two years ago, she started Campus for Transition in Forges (northcentral France) to train future generations on emerging challenges of the 21st century. Sister Renouard spoke to La Croix about her work and vision.

La Croix: How can climate issues be used for educational purposes?

Cécile Renouard: The ecological transition, which affects our lifestyles and our production and consumption models, requires a cultural change. It is therefore an educational issue.

It’s not only a matter of changing our daily practices, by better sorting our waste and saving water and electricity, but also of renewing our understanding of what constitutes a good life so that the transition is not an ecological dictatorship that imposes standards and processes on us.

Education is fundamental, from an early age, to make the climate transition desirable, and to put the quality of relationships before the quantity of goods.

Children and young people should be helped to reconnect with themselves, with others and with nature.

Ecological initiatives are multiplying in schools. But there’s the feeling that they hardly go beyond the anecdotal. Is this also what you are seeing?

I would say that we sometimes stick to symbolic gestures.

But symbols are far from useless. They can help us become aware of issues that we have not paid much attention to until now.

What is needed, however, is to connect small gestures.

According to Shift Project, a French think tank, viewing videos online is responsible for 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Similarly, when we talk about the need to rethink our mobility, it should be remembered that a Paris-New York flight produces 1.6 to 2 tonnes of CO2 per person.

Compare that with the recommendations of the Paris climate agreement, which says the carbon footprint should be reduced to less than 2 tonnes per person per year in France.

What about school curricula and the content of higher education courses?

In middle school and high school, the programs and practices seem to be moving towards a more systemic and cross-cutting approach, for example, in history-geography, philosophy, and life and earth sciences.

Similarly, in higher education, we are witnessing a growing awareness in response to the mobilization of students who are demonstrating an ecological awakening.

Gradually, curricula are being transformed to prepare students for future careers compatible with the transition.

Is it up to these young people to make adults change?

Let’s just say that those who attack Greta Thunberg by saying that it’s not up to young people to teach us about life are wrong.

We have to listen to this part of the youth that brings with it ecological questions and anxieties. We have to accept being pushed around, without guilt, without depriving ourselves or sometimes confronting them with their inconsistencies.

The climate transition needs all generations, a transition that can be experienced from the perspective of hope, not just of threat.


By Nicolas Senèze, La Croix, April 2020

The Vatican has cautioned against the increasing “tendency to privatize” access to water and its usage, saying water is a common good intended for the entire human family.

The warning comes in a new document titled, Aqua fons vitae (Water, Source of Life), which the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development made public on March 30.

That Vatican office had originally planned to have the text ready for publication on March 22, World Water Day, but was delayed because of the coronavirus crisis.

The dicastery said in a separate statement that the crisis is “particularly alarming” for healthcare institutions when faced with the possible lack of good quality water.

Reminder of the value of water

“We need water not only for drinking, but also for washing and sanitation,” said Tebaldo Vinciguerra, an official at the dicastery.

“For instance, problems related to access to toilets have consequences for both human dignity and water quality, with all the repercussions that this can have on the sanitary system, especially in this period of the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

Acqua fons vitae is the fruit of several years of reflection. It comes in the wake of a number of international conferences the Vatican has organized or attended.

The new document on water draws heavily on teachings of successive popes. It also makes reference to texts issued by international institutions such as the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), something that is not common in Vatican documents.

“Water, Source of Life” is primarily based on the vision of “integral ecology” — which Pope Francis spells out in his 2018 encyclical, Laudato si’— by emphasizing the inextricable link between the spiritual, ecological, economic, political and social fields.

The new text begins with a lengthy reminder of the value of water, not only on a spiritual level, with a vast inter-religious scope, but also with regard to water’s socio-cultural, aesthetic and, obviously, economic implications.

Attention to the appropriation of water by special interests

On this latter level, the Dicastery for Integral Human Development addresses the question of the “privatization” of water resources. While it does not condemn privatization a priori, it does emphasize the risks and consequences of appropriation of water by special interests.

“This ‘tendency to privatize’ water is manifest if and when human rights, human dignity and the integral development of societies are disregarded; the profit of a small group is prioritized…; environmental sustainability is disregarded; public control is absent or inadequate; there is a lack of transparency…. the poorest and most disadvantaged groups are excluded from access to water… because they are unable to pay a tariff or because they are being discriminated against and threatened by those controlling water; water-related investments are not made in the areas… and for the operations (…) that are perceived as being not profitable,” the Vatican document says.

“Water is a common good whose wise administration contributes to the common good of the human family,” emphasized Vinciguerra, the dicastery official.

A text for the local Churches

With a very broad vision, the document also looks at human rights and the environmental consequences of human activities in relation to water. For example, it addresses exploitation of the oceans, the phenomenon of migrants at sea and the status of maritime workers.

Acqua fons vitae calls on governments and leaders in the economic sphere to exercise a greater sense of responsibility when making decisions or implementing projects that have an impact on water.

But the new document is addressed above all to local Churches and various ecclesial organizations and movements, providing them with avenues for reflection and action.

“Valuing peace efforts” in the face of water wars

“It’s about helping them understand what’s at stake and what can be done, knowing that a lot has already been done and that this document draws on the experiences of the Church at the local level,” said Vinciguerra.

The document offers a vast array of proposals. They range from pastoral activities to advocacy efforts, from beach clean-ups to the promotion of traditions and sanctuaries that are linked to the sea.

More generally, the document wishes to take a positive look at water issues, such as the “water wars”.

“The rhetoric of the war for water should not make us forget all the diplomatic efforts in favor of water management,” said Vinciguerra.

He cited numerous examples, including efforts to protect the Senegal and Danube rivers, as well as the ongoing construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile.

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