From the DirectorLike the air we breathe, water is essential for our life and well-being. The average person here in the U.S. uses 80-100 gallons in a variety of ways throughout each day. Indeed, water is so intertwined with our everyday life that we generally take this precious gift for granted, and pause to reflect on it only when we hear a story about the serious consequences that arise from its contamination.
Unfortunately, in recent decades contaminated water has become a serious issue in some of the countries where Columban missionaries minister. This is often a direct result of the environmental effects of mining, when chemicals used in the extraction process or waste materials are allowed to seep into the soil and water with devastating long-term consequences for the health and well-being of the local people.
In countries like Peru and the Philippines, poor indigenous people are often uprooted from their ancestral lands by large-scale mining, which also poisons their water, thus completely undermining their way of life. Deprived of their land and of access to clean water, their spirits become parched, their hopes wilt, and their dreams wither.
It is not enough to simply tend the wounds of these suffering people. Rather, the Gospel compels us to address the underlying causes of their anguish. Among them is our craving for new products, which in turn compels mining companies to continually seek out new sources of raw materials. As consumers, frequently we are blissfully unaware that others pay with their tears for our amusements. There is also the issue of outdated laws protecting the environment, which allows international mining companies to place profits before the interests of local people. Besides, many indigenous people lack the education and political influence required to convince a corporate board that their right to maintain access to clean water takes precedence over industrial progress.
Columban missionaries, who understand the way of life of the local people, and who share their concerns and fears, often find themselves thrust into the role of advocates not just on their behalf, but on behalf of God. They understand that for God’s promise through the prophet Ezekiel to be fulfilled in the sacrament of baptism, “I will pour clean water over you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you of all your impurities and from all your idols (36:25)”, then access to clean water is indispensable not only for daily life, but also for new life in Christ.