H.E. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s Remarks to the High Level Panel on Water 

I would like to convey my personal greetings to the organizers and participants of the High Level Panel on Water and express my congratulations for having put together this significant meeting. There are two reasons why I would like to be with all of you. First and foremost, the importance of a topic that we all see as one of the primary issues touching not only humans but all living creatures and the entire ecosystem. The second reason is more personal. You have chosen Bellagio. A marvelous place surrounded by water and the setting of my family home. In this splendid environment you will discuss and reflect on valuing water.



Today we all concerned about some grave issues: poverty, inequality, and the suffering of both people and planet. Together we seek a common course to navigate a future of justice and compassion, and we begin with the basic denominator of all life: water.

Across faiths, water’s centrality to our physical existence is mirrored in its role in our religions. In fact, in all great religions, and in all great civilizations, water was always considered as a primordial and universal symbol of fertility and purity that leads into spiritual Catharsis. This profound yet humble servant of life is a sacred connection to all that we depend upon, and all that we value. It is vital to note that these two aspects are presently disconnected for many of us. This year, on World Water Day, we initiated the global conversation “Watershed” to give voice to many perspectives and faiths, for a more united vision of a better world.  

Watershed was born in harmony with the concerns and counsel of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, and in its spirit of reaching out across cultures, religions, ages and boundaries whether seen or unseen on “Sister Earth.” Watershed, springing from a place of contemplation and gratitude, aims to reaffirm the bond between the value and values of water.

What did we discover in this global conversation across geographies, across faiths, cultures, and history?



The global water crisis is not new to us, but we have glimpsed our relationship to it in new ways, through the lens of our advanced capabilities as well as our limitations. Our technologies expand our potential, from satellites that monitor the Earth to artificial intelligence that collects data and analyzes our options. The urgency of water stress and the fragility of our ecosystems and our common home, and the difficulty of overcoming human fears, competing needs and the short-sightedness that threaten our success in this, the challenge of the 21st century.



The Earth and all its life form a holistic and inseparable system. In this age of globalization, we are not merely connected to each other and to the environment, we are interwoven and interdependent. Thus our actions must be based not on boundaries, but on a stewardship that harkens back to the values that honor water as central, as sacred to life. Even beyond water as a human right, Pope Francis reminds us, our common home must be protected. Our watersheds, our ecosystems, our very planet Earth itself must be the fourth axis at the heart of the food, water and energy nexus.



The pace of change presses us to adapt as never before. Climate change, human use of natural resources, population shifts, economic fluctuations, disease, disaster, famine and conflict require actions that are nimble, informed, adaptive and equitable. Dr. Fred Boltz of the Rockefeller Foundation advised us that “the greatest challenges spark the greatest levels of ingenuity. Presently, we face some of the most daunting challenges in human history. Yet, we are too complacent – we cannot rely on conventional solutions to unconventional problems.”

We risk living beyond the capacity of our planet, and we cannot content ourselves with meager measures. We need to embrace a longer perspective and a larger vision. We cannot merely “fix the pipes,” as Jennifer Sara of the World Bank noted, “we must fix the institutions that fix the pipes.” And we can only do that together.



In our religious and cultural narratives, water bridges differences. We are bound by our common need, and historically, even enemies have been transformed by the gift of water.

Water is a common good, and we are both heartened and hastened by the proof that our peoples are capable of coming together for a common global good. As Dr. Assia Bensalah Alaoui, Ambassador of Morrocco stated, “It is a global world, a global continent. Either we succeed together or we fail altogether.”

We need to unite people from different realms – philanthropy, education, research, economics – from every dimension of the social sphere, through every cultural context.



We reach one another by finding and expressing our shared values about water. We touch one another by listening and responding with compassion. We move beyond the singular self and understand our brothers and sisters through empathy. Empathy speaks not through the modern parlance of data and statistics, but in the ancient and absolute tongue of stories.

Stories are the intrinsic way that human beings relate to one another and their world. Every faith, every culture, every civilization is leavened with legends, parables and scriptures … with art, music and architecture.

We are creatures of metaphor. Stories allow us to transcend, to see new perspectives that lead to new possibilities. To recognize our common values gives us reasons to endure.



In closing, I will touch on one overarching and abiding value shared by all: our children, the flower and fruit of the human family tree. A family tree with roots deep in the Earth. A family tree that grows toward the light and is nourished by water.

We have always known that our survival depends on our children, but we have been slow to realize a global sense of shared parentage. We have been slow to comprehend what our children will inherit and what they themselves are ready and able to do about it. Our children will lead if we see through their eyes, if we give them the opportunity, the respect, and the resources of substance and spirit.

As was mentioned during our Watershed initiative, the Holy See acknowledges  that “perhaps it is in this very work of education and formation of the young that we find our moral mandate and our sacred legacy.”

His Holiness Pope Francis underlined this belief in his encyclical Laudato Si’: “Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn” (LS, 160).

It is evident to all of us that true change can occur only through combined efforts by all stakeholders. I can assure you that the Pontifical Council for Culture, which corresponds to the Ministry of Culture in other countries, and other Vatican entities are ready to work with all institutions and people of good will who across the world care about this precious and essential element of life. To all of you I wish a blessed time of fruitful discussion and exchange of knowledge during this important event.

Watershed Conference Discusses Values of Water

Ethical and moral principles can steer local and global response to water sustainability.

Too much, too little, too dirty, undervalued. When water supplies are out of sync with human and environmental needs, life suffers. Adequate water for all means adapting decades-old management practices to fast-changing ecological conditions while expanding the circle of participants in decision making: from a narrow technical-managerial focus to an embrace of ethical, moral, and cultural perspectives from all ages and social classes. This broad perspective should be strengthened by scientific and satellite data that reveal water’s deep connection to food and energy systems, and animated by narratives that unite the sacred and the mundane.

Those were central messages at Watershed, an international conference held on March 22 in Rome. The conference, which coincided with World Water Day, was hosted by the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Vatican’s intermediary for scientific and religious inquiry, and the Club of Rome, a global policy think-tank.

“I am happy that this meeting is taking place,” said Pope Francis, addressing conference attendees during his World Water Day message from the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. “For it represents yet another stage in the joint commitment of various institutions to raising consciousness about the need to protect water as a treasure belonging to everyone, mindful too of its cultural and religious significance.”

Four hundred leaders of government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, religious institutions, and research organizations took part in the seven-hour event that was broadcast live on the internet. The following day 80 individuals participated in a planning workshop to develop a roadmap for water values.

Education was a principal theme. The Pontifical Council for Culture is keen to mobilize the Catholic Church’s schools, universities, and religious centers – a network of 1.2 billion people worldwide – to teach members about the importance of water.

“Even cardinals can understand what water is about,” said Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, head of the council’s science and faith department. Trafny, who developed a love of water as a boy in coastal Poland, noted that the Church wants to develop a “new culture of care” for the world’s water, a view that Pope Francis endorsed in his 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si, a call to Earth stewardship.

“In this education we find our moral mandate and our sacred legacy,” said Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for relations with states at the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Repositioning water in an ecological and spiritual context means being able to look and listen with all human capacities – the social informed by the technical.

One way of better observation is through scientific investigation. Rabi Mohtar, a professor at Texas A&M University, presented research that traced links between water, food, and energy. Reducing food waste by 20 percent in Lebanon would cut farm water consumption by 3 percent, he said. Reducing food waste by 20 percent in Morocco would save 2 percent of national electricity generation.

Seeing in the data these synergies between sectors “allows us to reduce dependencies” in the real world, Mohtar explained. Less food waste, more water.

Technological tools open another path. Kathryn Sullivan, an astronaut who was the first American woman to walk in space and a former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, mentioned that this is the first generation of humans to use satellites to predict the future through weather forecasting, a capacity she called “environmental intelligence.”

Sullivan hoped that the foresight resulting from that technology could be a basis for collaboration – emergency responders, for instance, can be positioned just outside a hurricane’s danger zone to stage supplies before a big storm hits. Farm insurance schemes could be linked to real-time drought monitoring. But Sullivan noted that the skills and computer outputs still require significant refinement. “We’re teenagers at having this space-based ability and being able to bring it into our decision making,” she said.

Cities, meanwhile, must adapt as they go. Already they are designing urban spaces with a dramatically different set of values than those that were expressed in the concrete and asphalt eras of past decades, said Mark Fletcher, global water business leader with Arup, an engineering firm. He spoke of Singapore, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and others that are softening the hardscape of urban design.

“I know one thing,” he said. “All of the diagrams I see of future cities, wherever they are around the world, whenever they are drawn up, they look greener and bluer than the existing cities.”

Fletcher mentioned Bosco Verticale, a pair of forested apartment towers in Milan, as a standout example. “Rather than have monolithic concrete skyscrapers we have trees in buildings, going up buildings to capture water, process water,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time.”

Conference attendees challenged each other to incorporate these ideas in their businesses, community organizations, and government policies. Assia Bensalah Alaoui, ambassador at large for the King of Morocco, reminded those in the room and watching online that the stakes could not be higher. “Either we succeed together or we fail altogether,” she warned.