Water is life: Reflection for Laudato Si’ Week 2020 and beyond

Water is life: Reflection for Laudato Si’ Week 2020 and beyond

Sue Martin

During Laudato Si’ Week 2020, the Australian Jesuit Province put out a challenge for all to learn, pray and take action for the sake of all of God’s creation. I took that challenge and reflected each day on one chapter of Aqua fons vitae-Orientations on Water: symbol of the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth, a new document released by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development for World Water Day 2020.

This is my response to the Laudato Si’ week challenge, spending a week pondering on water in my life. My worldview is from Australia, the driest continent, where I live and work in the global north. I am responding as an environmental educator who sees this document as a powerful call to action to honour sister water. My reflection will use the Catholic Social Teaching process of See-Judge-Act to Think Globally, Act Locally.

There are seven main chapters in Aqua fons vitae which will be referred to as AV. Each day will focus on one chapter with a question for us to ponder on.

Within Laudato Si’, verse 49 is so powerful – to listen to the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth. Using water as a symbol of this cry is also very powerful. It could have been any of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a symbol explored by the Dicastery but water was chosen. In 2018, during the Ecojesuit Annual Meeting, Action for Water was chosen by the network participants as a call to action and a way to dialogue.

Day One: Preface by Cardinal Turkson

Quotes that spoke to me:

AV 2 – Water is the symbol for baptism, central to the sacramental life of the Church.
AV 3 – We feel the need to give thanks for sister water as Saint Francis of Assisi terms the vast grandeur of water, a call to ponder creation.
AV 9 – Be doers of the Word, not hearers only.
AV 10 – The central task of the Church is reconciling people with God, with themselves, with neighbours and with the whole of creation.
AV 11 – Dream made of water

What words are speaking to you?

Cardinal Turkson introduces Aqua fons Vitae with an initial meditation calling on the Creator Spirit to be with us as we ponder on sister water. The Preface is full of the “why” we should be paying attention to the signs of the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

This integral ecology message is also to listen to the cry of water. The call to be ‘doers of the Word not just listeners’ resonates for me, a very clear link to the Gospel message to go out and love one another. But how do we become doers of the Word? This is a statement to ponder on, how can I better love sister water.

COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to pause and consider integral ecology as a call for a new future not to bounce back, a new normal, which is a challenge for us all. What could that new way of dialogue with neighbours, creation, and within our Church look like?

Mother Earth has shown us the limits on our consumerist aspirations, can we listen and adapt locally, regionally and globally, in our daily lives, in our Church lives and how our nations live together on Mother earth?

Water has a regenerative role in nature but is also a metaphor for the regeneration that is needed in our world today.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water, So useful, humble, precious and pure.

We need to act for water, sister water is seeking our help. The Ecojesuit network have discerned that water is our common ground for action. What does this mean really? To begin, I need to know my impact, understand my ecological footprint, track my use of our natural assets.

What is your water footprint? Find out by using a simple personal water footprint calculator developed by the Water Footprint Network.

My household’s water footprint is 885.8 m³ per year. It is high because I am not a vegetarian – this is the challenge I need to undertake for sister water, to reduce my meat intake.

How much water does your organisation use? How much water does your parish use?

Day Two: Aqua fons vitae – Introduction

Quotes that spoke to me:

AV 15 – Re-affirms that water-related problems, which are complex and often interconnected, are due to the absence of just and adequate relationships with God, with nature and with oneself. They must be addressed deeply, with justice, determination, solidarity and subsidiarity.
AV 18 – Water has a place in customs, legends, social life, and more generally in the culture of the place… a necessary process for inculturation (from Querida Amazonia)
What words are speaking to you?

“Like a saturated sponge, creation is dripping wet with divine presence, so to speak. Like a soaking ocean, a flowing fountain, an inexhaustible wellspring of sweet water, the life of the Spirit pervades the world.”

(From Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth A Johnson, 2014, page 137; Cosmic Sparks Ocean Sunday by Margie Abbott RSM, 2020, page 80)

Water as a symbol of the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth, leads us to understand the integral nature of the cries, one is inter-twined with the other. The complexity of our water crisis is often termed “wicked” which was coined by a colleague, Val Brown, from Australian National University.

The Stockholm Junior Water Prize is an international water science competition for high school students to help solve the world’s water challenges.

The answer to our wicked problems is not easy, but the first step is to look at ourselves and our relationship with God, with nature and with oneself. Have we lost our deep connections to place, to the culture of our place?

Aqua fons vitae is giving us a roadmap to consider, a call for us to notice the signs of the times, and learn from Querida Amazonia.

“I dream of an Amazon region that can jealously preserve its overwhelming natural beauty and the superabundant life teeming in its rivers and forests.” (From Querida Amazonia)

What is the dream for the rivers in your region?

I have a dream that my local river system the Hawkesbury-Nepean will have a riverkeeper.

Since 2008, the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Water Network has held the campaign Seven Weeks for Water, inviting people to use the season of Lent to reflect on water and providing weekly theological reflections and other resources on water for the seven weeks of Lent and for World Water Day on 22 March (which always falls during the Lenten period).

Day Three: Aqua fons vitae – Recognizing the Value of Water

Quotes that spoke to me:

AV 22 – Water in our Church life … sign of the Cross as you enter a Church has water
Ganges River is holy
AV 24 – Water is a carrier of the collective memory of humanity.
AV 27 – Just think of how much peace would be gained if countries could collaborate for water (water diplomacy).
AV 32 – SDG 6 does not talk about legal “right” but of universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water.

What words are speaking to you?

We need to be peace makers. The message from Pope Benedict XVI during World Day of Peace in January 2010resonates strongly as a call to action: If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.

How do we become protectors of creation? There is a need to understand the part that water plays in our Church life. Within the sacrament of Baptism, water is the symbol of new life. It is part of the Season of Creation from 1 September until 4 October. World Rivers Day or River Sunday is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of September during the Season of Creation.

How could your parish or ministry mark World Rivers Day?

There is also the Season of Creation: Ocean, a three-minute plus contemplative video and a beautiful reflection for the Season of Creation.

Water is a human right, the right to safe drinking water. How can we in the global north do more to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 6 – Ensure access to water and sanitation for all?

One simple action we can take is to use our purchasing power with social enterprise organisations such as Who gives a crap that donates 50% of profits from toilet paper sales to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. We can alsolearn more about how sacred the Ganges is to the people of India through the water chapter in Healing Earth- Case Study: The River Ganges.

Water Examen

Take a moment to calm yourself. Become aware of your breathing as we remember that we are in the presence of God. Ask the Holy Spirit to be with you in this Examen.
Recall the ways that water nourishes you and supports your life.
Where in your life do you feel grateful to God for the gift of water?
Review the events of this day, starting with when you woke up this morning.
When have you used water today? For drinking or eating? For washing?
When have you wasted water today or when could you have used water in better ways?
When did you take water for granted?
Ask for forgiveness from God for your shortcomings.
How could you use water better in the future?
Ask for the strength and knowledge to use water in ways that praise, reverence, and glorify God above all else.
Close with the Ignatian prayer of generosity: “Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve. To give and not to count the costs. To fight and not to heed the wounds. To toil and not to seek for rest. To labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will. St. Ignatius, pray for us.”

Day Four: Aqua fons vitae – First Dimension: Water for Human Use

Quotes that spoke to me:

AV 34 – The lack of adequate access to drinkable water is unfortunately a daily and terrible reality for millions of people.
AV 41 – Water-borne diseases cause two million deaths a year, mainly of children under 5 years.
AV 45 – Plastic is affecting human and wildlife health due to endocrine disrupters leaching into aquatic ecosystems.
AV 48 – The call for the Church is to build awareness and to aim to build ‘courageous policies’ regarding water.
AV 54 – Circular economy needs wastewater as a focus also. Wastewater can be used for agriculture and power generation and enhances opportunities for food and energy security.
AV 57 – Provides lots of advice

What words are speaking to you?

Most in the global north are unaware that drinkable water is not available to many in the global south. It is a human right that allows us to live with dignity. The call from Gandhi to ‘live simply so others can simply live’ is a good life motto.

The Story of Stuff Project water documentaries track our consumerist tendency to buy bottled water when our Sydney drinking water is amazing. Dr Bhakti Devi is a water scientist in Sydney working to help water management in India. She started by hosting an Indian dinner in friends’ houses to raise funds for safe drinking water in villages in India. This led to Table Talks, a way of sharing stories. Bhakti has now moved to India to work with passionate local people on water reform, a truly inspiring endeavour.

“We shall awaken from our dullness and rise vigorously toward justice. If we fall in love with creation deeper and deeper, we will respond to its endangerment with passion.” (From Saint Hildegard of Bingen)

Know your water cycle in your catchment or watershed

The water cycle is a natural process across Earth. We cannot make more water. We have to live within the parameters of nature, but for me it is groundwater that is most ignored. Groundwater is not visible, so we don’t realise how important it is. Where is the recharge for your groundwater aquifers? How healthy are they? In Australia, chemical contamination has occurred around industrial sites leaching firefighting foam into the groundwater and causing health and ecosystem disruptions.

A question to ponder upon, do you know how extensive your local aquifer or groundwater system is and where the recharge waters come from?

Day Five: Aqua fons vitae – Second Dimension: Water and Human Activities

Quotes that spoke to me:

AV 73 – Church can get involved in watershed source to sea to achieve sustainability.
AV 75 – Church can get involved in value of water for peace.
AV 78 – Reduce pollution on Church property impacting rivers locally.
AV 79 – Pastorally and spiritually, accompany those working in water fields.

What words are speaking to you?

My reflection:

Water is life, life is sacred but exploitation of Sister water is happening all around us.

The river most at risk in our Asia Pacific region is the Mekong – it is not loved as it should be. The Mekong flows from the Tibetan Plateau and runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. One of the key environmental concerns for the Mekong is the lack of environmental flows resulting in salinization in the estuary.

Plastic pollution in our oceans is growing as plastic never goes away, it just gets smaller. Ninety percent of plastic in the oceans is flushed there by just 10 rivers. The Mekong is one of them. The Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP) is a collaborative citizen science projecttracking micro plastic pollution in our beaches.

Can you be a voice for your local river, join a care group such as Landcare? My local Landcare group is caring for Cattai catchment which flows into the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system.

Get to know the story of your river and watch a learning activity with Story of a River.

Who is working to give legal status to your local river, like the Whanganui River in New Zealand which is a legal person?

What is the name used by First Peoples for your local river? My local river is the Hawkesbury-Nepean in New South Wales, Australia and which flows through the traditional lands of the Darug people who call this river Deerubbin.

Reflection: Peace to Our Earth

Peace to this earth
This gift of creation
Which we celebrate
With joy and with reverence.

In the spirit of the first Francis,
May we take time to see
The radiance of creation,
This gift of light and liquid
And green growth.

Peace to this earth;
May we practice nonviolence
Toward our lakes, rivers and seas.
May we renew the living waters
Teeming with life, small and large.
May clean waters quench our deep thirst.

Peace to this earth;
May we practice nonviolence
Toward the land, the very ground of life;
May we restore the soil
So its richness can give us plentiful food.
May we all be nourished by the fruits of the earth.

Peace to this earth;
May we practice nonviolence
Toward air, sky, clouds.
May we respect these gifts
So we can breathe freely in gentle rain.
May the natural world be a safe home for all.

Peace to this earth,
We pray with our pope,
Peace to creation,
Which we celebrate
With joy and reverence,
Knowing we hold a fragile world
In our hands. Amen.

By Jane Deren, PhD, Copyright 2013-2017, Education for Justice, a project of Center of Concern

Day Six: Aqua fons vitae – Third Dimension: Water as Space

Quotes that spoke to me:

AV 95 – Strengthen the Apostleship of the Sea / Stella Maris as a pastoral service

What words are speaking to you?

The Stella Maris apostleship has a focus on the sea but we can call on Stella Maris to help us better care for sister water – something for our Church to ponder. There are many wonderful people who have advocated for the sea to fight plastic pollution. For me they are part of the Apostleship of the Sea.

There is Anthony Hill who lives in his Kombi van and travels Australia to get the message out to young people about single-use plastic solutions. He is Plastic Pollution Solutions. Sophia Skarparis is a 16-year old student who, at age 14, collected over 12,000 handwritten signatures to ban single-use and retail plastic bags in New South Wales in October 2018 and continues her campaign to reduce plastic waste and mobilize youth to act on climate change. Sophia is part of our North Sydney parish ecology team and her story can be viewed at Plastic Free Sophia.

Can you alter your lifestyle to be single-use plastic free? You may wish to join Plastic Free July, a global movement to be part of the solution to plastic pollution by choosing to refuse single-use plastics.

Can you be a Take 3 for the Sea advocate? Every time you are out walking “on Holy Ground”as Exodus 3:5 tells us, can you pick up three items of rubbish? This is our response to being part of the Apostleship of the Sea.

Ecojesuit has been part of the call for the Vatican to consider a Synod for Oceania. This would be a fitting response for our Church to the UN International Decade for Action on Water on ‘Water for Sustainable Development’ 2018-2028.

“Earth, our common home, is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” (Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ 1)

Day Seven: Aqua fons vitae – Education and Integrity

Quotes that spoke to me:

AV 104 – “Embrace every corner of social experience in which education can generate solidarity, sharing and communion.”
Spreading a culture of care which permeates all of society
AV 105 – Water is a way to have a dialogue – to raise awareness, seek justice at an international, national, regional level.

What words are speaking to you?

My reflection:

Environmental educators are my tribe, the community that encourages me to go out into the deep, as Jesus did. But the call to seek ecological conversion across our community is often difficult for me as encouraging shifts in others becomes a truly personal journey. I am guided by my colleague Peter Saunders from the Being with God in Nature program who shares what ecological conversion looks like.

“In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites you into a conversion through an intimate encounter with Jesus of Nazareth. This loving encounter with Jesus transforms your heart, bringing forth great desires to want to serve Christ in the world in your own unique way. In the encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis is inviting you into an ecological conversion. This is not just being concerned about the environment. This is a call to have your heart transformed again, this time drawn into the deeper relationship with the Presence that is God in all Creation.”

Beautiful words, which speak about the call to be like Saint Francis who taught us that we are all connected.In becoming a Laudato Si’ community, we are seeking faith doing justice, going deeper, paying attention to the“cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth’ and the symbol of sister water.

How are you listening to these cries?

Water and climate change is the focus of the 2020 edition of the World Water Development Report“Combining climate change adaptation and mitigation, through water, is a win-win proposal, improving the provision of water supply and sanitation services and combating both the causes and impacts of climate change, including disaster risk reduction.”(UNESCO)

In Australia, we celebrate National Water Week is on 19 to 25 October 2020 with the theme Reimagining our Water Future.What activity could you undertake for Water Week 2020?

Watch Brave Blue World: A Perfect Storm for Water or 2040?

In the name of the Spirit of God who hovered over the primal waters.
In the name of the Word of God who parted the waters for the Earth to appear.
In the name of the Wisdom of God, who filled the deep with amazing design! Amen

(From Cosmic Sparks by Margie Abbott RSM, 2020, page 98)


For those in the Ecojesuit community we do need to think global and act local. What will happen when the glaciers have all melted? Who will listen to the cry of the poor? What will happen when the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem finally collapses from constant heat waves? These are concerns the World Water Council explores at regular World Water Forums.

We don’t have the power to globally change these “wicked” problems, but we can “act local” and be a water-wise community and only use our fair share. Know sister water.

For those who acknowledge our need for Reconciliation with Creation, understanding the Jesuit way of proceeding is a guide.What does the act of Reconciling with Creation look like for you?

Establishing our environmental way of proceeding for “ecological conversion”

Father Pedro Arrupe SJ spoke of “our way of proceeding” as captured in the 34th General Congregation: Decree 26:1-9. In following this approach, we draw out seven points deepening our response to the challenge of reconciliation with creation in our lives and institutes.

  • We acknowledge the Creator of all life and find some quiet moment each day to appreciate this with gratitude.
  • We as an organization seek to reflect and speak of what we experience and discern our relationship with and our responsibility for the earth’s natural systems.
  • We recognize that the children and young people we see today inherit this living world as we now choose to sustain it by finding God at work in all things and actively seek to engage them.
  • We seek to reach out in solidarity and hope to the poor who are increasingly losing their livelihoods and ecological sustainability and incorporate their concerns in our care for the web of life.
  • We support good actions in contemporary culture and explore needed alternatives with decision, partnering with others in order to broaden our capacity to transform environmental attitudes and relations.
  • We seek the greater good of finding how people can work with the gifts of creation; we live life as a mission, to heal and share with others the fullness of life.
  • We accept the challenge of living sustainably in the world.

(From Reconciling with Creation resource book by JCAP-Ecology, 2015)

My 2020 Water commitment is to animate my care and connection for the Murray-Darling basin. This could be through working with our Jesuit communities to undertake Living Laudato Si’ workshops within the Murray-Darling basin system, undertaking tree planting initiatives that are linked to Flights for Forests.

The 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan is mentioned as a world-leading plan as many river systems do not have a plan, but fixing the ecosystems is still not on track according to river ecologist Richard Kingsford from the Centre for Ecosystem Science of the University of New South Wales.

Other Australian environmentalists call for more from the Murray-Darling basin plan including increasing the voice from First Peoples, as shared by the Environmental Defenders Office New South Wales and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

What is your 2020 Water commitment?

As Laudato Si’ week becomes Laudato Si’ year, our answers to the pondering questions becomes an opportunity for sister water to have prominence in our lives, especially in what we do as Church.

We can all become Laudato Si’ animators, developing the Laudato Si’ Goals using the Laudato Si’ Action Platform “Jubilee for the Earth.”

Our actions as a response to Aqua fons vitae are aimed at promoting just relations with our brothers and sisters and with nature, especially through and with water. Amen.

Sue Martin is the Reconciliation with Creation project officer in the Australian Province of the Society of Jesus and Assistant Coordinator of the Reconciliation with Creation program of the Jesuit Conference Asia Pacific. Sue can be reached through her email:sue.martin@sjasl.org.au.


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