I learned to appreciate water during my two trips to Peru. On the first trip we visited a community in northern Peru, near Piura, where there was no running water. We saw the water being brought in on the backs of animals, as it had to be each day. On the second trip I was in Cuzco but the tap water was -- as it is throughout Peru -- not safe to drink. Every day the cook in our house boiled pitchers full of water to keep us thirsty norteamericanos hydrated and healthy. However, the water supply was unreliable and usually cut off during the night. Sometimes it would come back on in the morning; other times it would not and I would have to go to school without washing and -- worse -- leaving the toilet unflushed.
So I was deeply grateful to discover this beautiful pastoral letter from Bishop Luis Infanti de la Mora, OSM of Aysén (Patagonia), Chile -- "Danos hoy el agua de cada día" ("Give us this day our daily water"). The 90-page letter was written over the course of a couple of years, starting from a dialogue about the environment the bishop began with his people in 2006. His questions and their answers are part of the pastoral letter.
The letter was first publicly presented in September 2008 to executives of HidroAysen, a company that was proposing to build a dam which the bishop has opposed. It is an eloquent reflection on the many facets of water -- as an environmental resource, as a necessity for human survival, as a sacramental sign -- and it ranges from hard facts to hard-hitting political statements to the elegant verse of Chile's poet Gabriela Mistral. We learn, for example, that 96% of Aysén's fresh water rights are controlled by one company, Endesa -- a monopoly which the bishop believes is problematic because it "can become a form of colonialism, the domination of certain peoples."
Environmentalists like Juan Pablo Orrego, an ecologist with the Chilean NGO Ecosistemas, have welcomed the letter. “I find the bishop’s stance to be both valuable and brave, because certainly there are sectors within the Chilean Catholic Church that take a very different view, which are very pro-development, allied with business leaders,” says Orrego. “That fact that this message is coming from the Chilean Catholic Church is very powerful. It represents a paradigm shift, an update.”
Those who speak Spanish are encouraged to read the original pastoral letter in its entirety. For English only speakers, I have taken the liberty of translating Bishop Infanti's introduction. I can only hope that it approximates the beauty of the bishop's original words.
Introduction to "Danos hoy el agua de cada día":
Dear brothers and sisters:
While visiting the community of Villa O’Higgins, my car got thirsty. Quenching that thirst cost me 850 pesos per liter of gasoline ($5.25/gallon).
I was also thirsty. It cost me 900 pesos per liter of WATER ($5.55/gallon). I did not stay calm. In the kingdom of pure and crystalline waters, of eternal snows, of graceful waterfalls, and majestic rivers such as Aysén where one can get the purest water on the planet for free, bottled water is more expensive than gasoline, milk, or a kilo of bread. And, like fireworks going off, questions filled my mind. And so I went searching, asking, observing, thinking and talking to people,...
It was one more reason for me to write this pastoral letter, the first in my 8 years as bishop in the Aysén region of Patagonia.
I realized that water, “sister water” -- together with “sister earth” -- are so essential to our daily life, that without them we would be captured by the tentacles of death. Through the subject of water, I have discovered how deeply social, ethical, political, religious, cultural and economic interests and motives are intertwined. I have been able to understand the direction our human history is taking, the political economy of a globalized world, the vocation and mission of the human being on this earth, and the urgent and prophetic role of the Christian and the responsibility to be an instrument of God to fight and build a world of harmony, peace, justice, solidarity and equality. In the end, I discovered the intimate relationship that should be between the human being and God, between the human being and the resources of His creation.
In every corner of vast Patagonia one finds the fingerprints of a creator God, the grandeur of the beauty and mystery that surrounds and surpasses us, in the colors, the silences, the smells, the waters and the forest, the wind and the animals, the snowdrifts and the rainbow; and therefore, in profound and solemn praise, we feel responsible for their protection and preservation.
Patagonia is contemplation and praise. It is exuberant life. It is the joy of living in a reserve of life. It is responsibility, struggle and effort, it is love and wisdom, peace and celebration, it is future and prayer. In acknowledging this reality, we want to speak out so that this corner of the planet will not be wounded and consumed by the urge for profit, exploitation and destruction that “soft consumerism” would entail.
Will Christian spirituality in the third millennium manage to convert the human being into a wise and responsible co-inhabitant with the cloak of nature that lovingly surrounds him? Will he continue to act as the bitter enemy of sister earth, sister water, brother air, and human brothers and sisters of this land, converting it into a “vale of tears”?
Will we still feel the soft footsteps of God passing through our land, meeting the fisherman and the peasant, the quick-witted child or the brave pioneer; and conversing with the suffering woman, the youthful dreamer, and the missionary priest in the garden of Patagonia?
A rainbow is breaking out. The sign of love and peace with which God blesses and embraces our earth, holy Patagonia, in an eternal pact of commitment so that the pure, clear and crystalline waters continue to flow with life, whose blood energizes the arteries of our land.
An alliance between Patagonia and her God, to maintain the lushness and the purity of the air, the impetuousness of the seas, the majesty of the eternal snow and ice, the nobility of the agile huemul, the amusing ñirre, the lenga, and the flowering calafate. Fraternity grows around the stove, and with mate and truco, a pact of friendship and faith is sealed, against the threatening projects of destruction.
Patagonia stands up, raises her voice, unites, organizes, and builds her future with sweat and faith.
Photos: Bishop Infanti and his land.