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.