God’s Sacred Gift of Water
Most Rev. Donald E. Pelotte, S.S.S., Ph.D.
Bishop of Gallup Diocese
February 11, 2005
Water and life are inseparable. In the beautiful, yet fragile environment of New Mexico, we have continual reminders that without water life is not possible. Whenever life-sustaining water reserves are threatened by drought, contamination or wasteful use, we are challenged anew to deepen our appreciation of water as God’s sacred gift and to exercise responsible stewardship in defending, preserving and conserving vital water resources. We are all interconnected and called to reverence the scarce and sacred gift of water.
The sacredness of water is conveyed in the Scriptures and our Catholic tradition. Creation of the universe is the first grace, the first revelation of God’s love and goodness. Human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are part of this love-imbued creation. This is evident at the dawn of creation, as described in Genesis: “God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear’... God called the dry land ‘the earth’ and the basin of the water God called ‘the sea.’ God saw how good it was.” (Genesis: 1:9-10) In the baptism of Jesus, water is the element used to symbolize spiritual cleansing and a sign of God’s grace conferred upon God’s anointed One. “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.” (Matthew 3:16) The Bible, the sacraments and Catholic tradition clearly communicate the sacred nature and benefits of water; how water nourishes our bodies and souls and is both literally and symbolically the giver of life.
In the 1998 Pastoral Statement of the Roman Catholic Bishops of New Mexico, “Partnership for the Future,” particular issues contributing to the environmental crisis in New Mexico were identified and recognized as deeply moral and ethical challenges for all people of faith. There is now an imminent threat to the people, lands and aquifers in Church Rock and Crownpoint that necessitates a statement from me, as Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Gallup in New Mexico and Arizona, in order to voice clear opposition to the in-situ leach uranium mining projects proposed by Hydro Resources Inc., of Lewisville, Texas. Numerous scientific and medical experts warn that the invasive technology to be used would invade and irreversibly contaminate the water resources in the aquifers, as well as the soil and air of this bio-region upon which over 50,000 people and local communities are completely dependent. There is no evidence that uranium desecrated water can ever be restored to safe levels for drinking or use. Such contamination and destruction of vital water resources by outside corporations intent on maximizing profits at the expense of the health and well-being of human populations, animals, native plants and land are clearly deeply moral, ethical and social justice issues that concern us all.
As stated in “Partnership for the Future,” we invite public policy makers and public officials to focus directly on environmental issues while seeking the common good of their communities, which by necessity includes the good of our planetary home. We call on them to eradicate actions and policies which perpetuate various forms of environmental racism, and to work for an economy which focuses more on equitable sustainability rather than unbridled consumption of natural resources, maximization of corporate profits and acquisition of goods.
Catholic Social Justice Teachings offer a clear guide for understanding the moral and ethical dimensions of the environmental challenges facing us in New Mexico, particularly in respect to water:
- a God centered and sacramental view of the universe which grounds human accountability for the fate of the earth;
- a consistent respect for human life which extends to respect for all creation;
- a world view affirming the ethical significance of global interdependence and the common good;
- an ethics of solidarity promoting cooperation and a just structure of sharing in the world community;
- an understanding of the universal purpose of created things which requires equitable use of the earth’s resources;
- an option for the poor which gives passion to the quest for an equitable and sustainable world;
- a conception of authentic development offering a direction for progress which respects human dignity and the limits of material growth. (“Renewing the Earth,” November 14, 1991, p. 5)
With this sacred view of earth and all creation, we continue to live out our covenant relationship with our Creator by being responsible stewards and caring brothers and sisters in God’s family.