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Monday, January 10, 2011

Baptism, water, conflict and hope

In the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord, we recognize the power and meaning of our own baptism. We also come to understand how God uses ordinary matter in His sacraments—like water, bread, wine and us—and makes it extraordinary.

From the Church's catechism (§1238) on baptism, we read that "The Church asks God that, through his Son, the power of the Holy Spirit may be sent upon the water, so that those who will be baptized in it may be 'born of water and the Spirit.'"

Sacramentally, water has become a pathway to eternal life—as here, now, in this fallen world, it is a pathway to biological life. Sadly, water is scarce in too many places, and as this report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops tells us, this scarcity leads to horrible human suffering.
Water is vital for sustaining the life of each person, for sustaining health and socio-economic well-being, and for making possible the very existence of life on our planet. The total amount of water on Planet Earth is fixed. Of the world’s water, only 2.5% is freshwater (i.e., not salty), most of which is locked up in glaciers or deep underground. The entire body of freshwater found in lakes and rivers makes up only 0.01% of the planet’s total 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water. With the human population at 6.5 billion and climbing, the per capita quantity of freshwater continues to decline. Yet the principal problem continues to be man-made: the inequitable access to and distribution of freshwater, which is highly variable between and within countries.

Nearly one billion people lack access to improved water. Approximately 2.5 billion people have no adequate access to improved sanitation facilities, i.e., piped sewers, septic tanks, latrines. About 80% of people with poor access to water and sanitation live in rural areas. Every year, 2.1 million people–mainly children–die due to illnesses related to dirty water, poor sanitation, and poor hygiene.

Approximately one third of the world’s population lives in water-stressed countries, primarily in Asia and Africa. By 2025, the proportion of the world’s population living in water-stressed countries is set to increase to two-thirds. Accordingly, water-related conflicts are expected to intensify in such areas. Absolute water scarcity already affects more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries. The role of water scarcity in creating preconditions of discontent and desperation—precursors to violent conflict—is widely acknowledged. 
And so, let us pray for those suffering now, and, as a community Baptized into the People of God, let us add to our prayers the support needed to help the many millions suffering right now as you read this sentence.

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