JUSTeach Newsletter

September 2005

social justice education


He changes a wilderness into a pool of water, and a dry land into springs of water

Ps 107:35



The extended drought in many African nations and the recent, although less extreme, drought conditions in many parts of the United States combined with the recent surge in gasoline prices make a comparison between water and oil a timely topic with both global and local implications. It’s an opportunity to explore the meaning and value of water in our lives using our own experiences and current issues in the news through the lens of Catholic social teaching.


If water were oil, would we be so careless as to let it drip from leaky faucets? If water were oil, would we routinely dry up our wetlands and ignore the value of the liquid gold, a treasure in our fields? If water were oil, would the countries of the world engage in wars to control it? Consider the various ways we “value” water. The United Nationsrecognizes water as a necessary, primary component of life in various documents as does Amnesty International. Catholic social teaching recognizes the right to potable water as basic to human life and dignity, sees water as part of Creation belonging to all people, and acknowledges layers of responsibility involved in protecting the world’s waters.


Some, while still recognizing water’s intrinsic relationship to human dignity, would still speak of water’s value in monetary terms such as in the following statement by a government official: “Water has become a highly precious resource. There are some places where a barrel of water costs more than a barrel of oil.” (Lloyd Axworthy, Foreign Minister of Canada in a 1999 news conference) However, Catholic social teaching explains that the intrinsic “value” of water extends beyond any monetary worth and cannot be expressed solely in the language of consumerism. Sifting through the late Pope John Paul II’s writings on the environment we can see a deep appreciation for the beauty of Creation as well as an awareness of both governmental and individual responsibility for caring for Creation. In our modern world, the harsh reality is that the “value” too frequently depends upon who’s looking at the facts or, more accurately, who’s thirsting for the water. How about you, have you ever thought of yourself as a person of privilege based on the fact that you have access to potable water? Would you pay as much for a barrel of water as for a barrel of oil? How do you express the value of water in your life?


Scriptural references to water:


“Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers.” Gen 2:10


“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Amos 5:24


“More than the sounds of many waters, than the mighty breakers of the sea, The LORD on high is mighty.” Ps 93:4


“Therefore you will joyously draw water from the springs of salvation.” Is 12:23


"And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward." Mt 10:42


"I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mk1:8


“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." Jn 4:14


In the news:

“Severe drought, together with an invasion of locusts, have devastated crops and plunged huge parts of Africa into crisis, particularly Niger, Mali and Mauritania. In Niger alone, more than three million people are facing starvation. Oxfam is already reaching 130,000 people in Niger, and others across the region.” From Oxfam International www.oxfam.com


In Illinois, “More than 90 percent of the state's cropland has less than adequate supplies of topsoil moisture, according to the Agriculture Statistics Service.” Chicago Tribune August 12, 2005


Many communities had watering bans this summer. Streams dried up in some areas. Barges along major waterways were grounded by low water levels.


Be sensitive in presenting drought information to younger students. Be certain to assure younger students in particular that the drought in the United States has been patchy, not nearly as extensive or as damaging as in other parts of the world and has not caused famine conditions in this country.


Catholic Social Teaching offers many documents pertaining to water related issues.

The National Catholic Rural Life Conference has a nice summary of Catholic social teaching points from a rural life perspective but with broad, global applications regarding a ‘water ethic.”



Pope John Paul II

Peace With God the Creator, Peace With All of Creation An important document recognizing environmental concerns, the World Day of Peace message 1990

Check out the website dedicated to the late pope’s environmental quotes as well. Pope John Paul II had great appreciation for the beauty of nature and the role of that beauty in relation to the life and dignity of the person.



The Columbia River Pastoral Letter Project


This site is the result of an international effort by Canadian and United States bishops to address their joint concerns over the shared watershed. The site offers both the pastoral letter The Columbia River Watershed: Caring for Creation and the Common Goodand a reflection guide designed to prompt discussion. Some of the discussion questions could be easily adapted for use in discussing bodies of water or water sheds in other locales.


More websites:

www.oxfam.org.uk/coolplanet/water/gettingstarted.htm suggested for kids 9-13 but some points could be incorporated into activities for older students. The “water shortages” quiz contains pictures and causes of water shortages including some your students might not immediately list such as tourism and trade and armed conflict.

The Environmental Protection Agency has several activities related to water.


www.epa.gov/safewater/kids/grades_9-12_mock_town_meeting.html for older students. In addition to the roles mentioned in this article, challenge students to prepare a position statement based on Catholic social teaching to be read by members of a local Catholic parish peace and justice group. Or adapt the game to fit a local issue your students will readily recognize and be able to discuss.


http://www.epa.gov/safewater/kids/kids_9-12.html The “Water Facts” and “Water Trivia” sheets might stimulate some conversation. There are also games which could be adapted or used as models for activities such as having your students create their own card game or trivia sheet based on the justice issues raised by water conditions in various parts of the world using the principles of Catholic social teaching.


www.epa.gov/safewater/kids/bloopers.html Lists common ways in which water is wasted or contaminated.

http://www.worldwatermonitoringday.org/ Your group can register to become part of World Monitoring Day measuring water quality between September 18 and October 18.


Stories from other countries:

Check out the Earth Day website’s ten stories regarding thirsty kids in other countries. Cut and paste the following to access the stories.


In preparation for the Water Reflection below, ask your students to share any water-related news they’ve seen or read over the summer. Prompt them if necessary with what you’ve read on water shortages or contamination.


Our stories: Water Reflection and Prayer

You’ll need a blue cloth,

A pitcher of water

a clear bowl halfway filled with water (perhaps put rocks or shells in the water),

a CD or tape of natural water sounds such as rains, waves or trickling streams

A chart or blackboard listing the seven principles of Catholic social teaching

Set the cloth and bowl on a small table where all can see it.



Remind students that water is necessary to maintain life and that it has spiritual and emotional benefits as well as physical. We appreciate the beauty of water in creation, we see the peacefulness of water and recognize its wild moments as well, we use water in many of our religious rituals, we drink it, cook with it, bathe in it. We water our plants with it. We play in it. We celebrate it.


Begin the CD on low volume.

Explain the following:


Some writers compare water to the memory of the land winding through the landscape and carrying remnants of all that has been as well as hope for the future. Let’s take a few minutes now to recall our own water memories. Silently, prayerfully recall experiences related to water and the role or meaning of water in your own lives. For discussion after reflection, try to


1)recall a time when you experienced a feeling of abundance related to water—joyful water activities in a pool, lake or even the sprinkler, a moment of realizing God has sent the rains, fishing or boating, a cool drink after a long hot day, or perhaps a younger sibling’s baptism


2) recall a time when you experienced drought or lack of water—thirst , “boil-before-drinking orders” in your community due to contaminated water supplies, gardens not producing flowers or vegetables, brown lawns, dying or stressed trees, dried stream beds.


Turn up the volume on the water sounds. Allow sufficient time for the students to collect their memories and to reflect on the many meanings of water in their lives before lowering the volume and calling them back into discussion.


Share the abundance or drought memories as a whole, or break into smaller groups or pairs of students. Try to connect memories to CST by pointing out the many ways water is connected to human life and dignity. For instance, in addition to our physical wellbeing being protected by clean drinking water and the role of water in raising our food, our dignity is reflected in our emotional and spiritual wellbeing such as when we use water in blessing rituals or when we are awed by the pure beauty of water. Our human dignity is also revealed when we play in the water celebrating its goodness in our lives and our own joy at being alive. Human life and dignity are essential in order to engage the other principles of Catholic social teaching. We cannot participate or work in solidarity if we are not having our basic needs met.


The common good and care for creation recognize that water is part of Creation and must not be used as a weapon of oppression or commodified so that the poor are denied access. It also demands that we be responsible stewards of this wonderful resource.

Encourage your students to make other connections and to explore the many ways we “value” water in our tradition


Water of Life Prayer


Softly play the CD from above as background music and explain that we will close our reflection time with prayer. Have the pitcher of water ready. We are going to both give thanks for a moment of water in our lives as well as pray for those who are experiencing drought in some way in our world today. They can do this individually or as a group depending upon how much time you have—each group will have to decide ahead who will pour water and who will voice the prayer. After each individual or group finishes their prayer all will respond with the words of St Francis of Assisi


All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, So useful, lowly, precious, and pure


Leader: Jesus invites all of us to drink the living waters he offers us. For many people of this world, thirst is a daily, constant reality. Let us offer our prayers of thanksgiving for water in our lives and prayers for all those in need of healing waters.


Model this for them by pouring some water and saying for example “For the sunset over the lake we give thanks and we ask that you send such moments of beauty to those who are homebound.” Or “We thank you Lord for the cooling, healing rains of last week and ask that you send waters to the parched lands of Niger.”


Response: “All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, so useful, lowly, precious, and pure.”

When all have had a chance to voice their prayers


Leader: Creator God, we give you thanks for the many blessings of water in our lives and ask that you shower the water of life on those regions of the world and those people so in need of water. We know you hear our prayers and ask that you grant these and all the prayers of our hearts. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our brother. AMEN


Other September Topics you might consider bringing into discussion this month:


Sep 5 Labor Day

Sep 8 International Literacy Day

Sep 11 Anniversary of September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks

Sep 15 National Hispanic Heritage Month

Sep 16 International Day for Preservation of the Ozone Layer

Sep 18 The beginning of International Water Monitoring ‘Day’

Sep 21 International Day of Peace

Sep 27 Feast Day St. Vincent de Paul


May the living waters of our loving God shower blessings upon you and your students throughout this school year. Peace, Colette Wisnewski

1 See the Columbia Pastoral Letter for instance

2 St. Francis of Assisi The Canticle of Creatures