Clean water is the gift of life

Another Lenten act of charity

The Bible is filled with references to water and its role in salvation, whether it is the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus turns water into wine; the Jordan River, where John baptizes Jesus; or at the temple, where Jesus tells the crowd, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’”

Water, indeed, is a symbol of everlasting life. But it is also essential to life on earth. Without it, all things living will perish. “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink” (Mt 25:37) is one of Jesus’ descriptions of how the righteous will gain eternal life.

During Lent, we focus on ways to practice acts of charity, and giving drink to the thirsty, one of the seven corporal works of mercy, is an example.

According to the United Nations, more than 2 billion people around the world do not have access to drinkable water, and 297,000 children under 5 die every year from preventable water-related diseases. How can we make a difference in literally giving drink to the thirsty?

We need only to turn to Catholic sisters for inspiration.

The Sisters of St. Francis, based in Dubuque, Iowa, have been bringing safe drinking water to villages in Tanzania and Honduras since 2006. Through their “Sister Water Project” — the title was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Creation (“Praised be you my Lord through Sister Water…”) — the sisters have built more than 250 wells and 20 water system projects.

During Lent, the Sister Water Project offers a “ripple effect” 2020 Lenten calendar that gives daily reminders of the need for clean drinking water and how water is taken for granted. The calendar can be downloaded at osfdbq.org/sister-water-project-main/lenten-calendar.

Another water project conceived by three medical missionaries, including Ursuline Sr. Larraine Lauter, is the “Water With Blessings” program that has provided more than 46,000 water filters in 45 countries. The water filters help eliminate water-borne diseases that lead to thousands of children dying each day.

The water system uses a five-gallon bucket and filtration kit assembled by those who use it. It requires no electricity. Water With Blessings partners with mothers around the world to oversee the projects.

“We have found that mothers are ideal partners in our quest to change the reality of dirty water,” the project’s website states. “We invite mothers to make a faith-based commitment, for we know that adding ‘the God Spark’ will charge and sustain a mother for compassionate, joyful service to her family and neighbors.”

Another benefit of providing clean drinking water in places like Tanzania, Haiti and Honduras is that it frees up time for other important tasks. “In Tanzania, women are adversely affected by time spent fetching water, which keeps them out of school and productive employment,” the Sister Water Project states.

“Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink … will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42). This Lent, meditate on these words and consider supporting the ministry of Sister Water Project and Water With Blessings.

Donations to Sister Water Project can be made at the website or by mail to Sisters of St. Francis, c/o Sister Water Project, 3390 Windsor Ave., Dubuque, Iowa, 52001. To support Water With Blessings, contact Sr. Larraine by email at [email protected], or visit waterwithblessings.org.