Fr Billy Swan
The theme of this year’s ‘Season of Creation’ is “Let Justice and Peace Flow” - inspired by the words of the prophet Amos: “Let justice flow like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (5:24). What struck me from this image of flowing water is not only how water symbolises justice and peace but how our problems with water are symptoms of disharmony in creation caused by injustices that need to be addressed. These problems can be seen locally in Ireland and at the global level too.
Take for example, this year’s wheat and barley crops that were badly affected by a lack of rain in May and June and too much rain in July and August. On the global stage, for countries in the horn of Africa, once fertile lands are becoming desert because of lack of rain and a dramatic change in weather patterns. On the other side of the scale, severe floods last year in Pakistan killed almost 2,000 people. Too little water can kill as can too much.
In his message for this year’s ‘Season of Creation’, Pope Francis highlights the reason why the fine balance between having too much water and too little, has been disrupted. He writes: “Consumerist greed, fuelled by selfish hearts, is disrupting the planet’s water cycle”. The destruction of forests and the relentless burning of fossil fuels are causing this imbalance that directly affects the lives of millions because of floods or drought.
With this in mind, Pope Francis calls us to “an ecological conversion” and to adopt lifestyles “marked by less waste and unnecessary consumption”. These core principles about the care of creation are found in his encyclical Laudato Si. In relation to water, they are spelled out in the document “Aqua Fons Vitae…Water the Source of Life” - a document published by the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development” in 2020. This detailed document outlines the symptoms of water injustice that include the commercialization of water, sanitation problems caused by the lack of water, coastal erosion, pollution and rising sea levels. In response, the pope calls the whole Church to solidarity with people affected by water injustice including the 2 billion people who do not have regular access to safe drinking water.
What also struck me from the image of flowing water bringing justice was the place of water in the Jewish-Christian tradition. If you go to the Holy Land, you travel through miles of the vast desert and there realise the importance of water for the survival of life, especially the water provided by the Jordan river and the Sea of Galilee. You then read the Scripture accounts of the crossing of the Red Sea, the woman at the well, the use of water for baptism, the themes of purification, cleansing and renewal. Suddenly the gap is bridged between physical life, supported by water and the divine life Christ came to share with us, mediated by water and built on faith. It is the gift of water that sustains and imparts all life both human and divine. In this ‘Season of Creation’ may we be conscious of those suffering from too little water or too much and work for the justice that will restore the balance in the water supply that we all depend on.