The Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) welcomes the deep insight and timely commentary that His Holiness Pope Francis has provided in the papal encyclical “Care for Our Common Home” on the critical and interconnected issues of water injustice, climate change and the loss of biodiversity. As the WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has noted, “This encyclical proves to all that these are matters at the heart of our Christian faith, and that we as Christians should address them together with all people who care for our common future. This is the time to focus on our shared responsibility as human beings.”

In a way that resonates with all Christians and other people of faith, the Holy Father explains both the sacred value of creation and the profound responsibility of humanity to care for creation. He utterly rejects the misreading of Scripture that sanctions a “tyrannical” and “distorted anthropocentrism” and instead affirms outright the intrinsic value of all creatures.

Pope Francis underscores the most severe water issues plaguing our planet: increasing water scarcity in light of climate change and increasing human demands; pollution of precious freshwater resources by mining, farming, industrial activities and household products (e.g., detergents etc.); privatization and corporate profiteering on water; and the failure to provide every human being with safe water to drink. As the Holy Father rightly notes, “access to safe drinking water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival.”

The encyclical manifests the Holy Father’s deep concern about the water issues that are at the core of EWN’s global advocacy efforts, including realization of the human right to water and sanitation, privatization and corporate water grabbing, water for food and attainment of the UN sustainable development goals.

The EWN is guided by an International Reference Group that includes representatives of the Catholic bishops in Latin America and Africa as well as regional ecumenical organizations and other representatives of the Orthodox and Protestant churches belonging to the World Council of Churches. Thus, there is a natural convergence of thought between EWN, the ecumenical initiative on water justice of the WCC, and the profound Catholic social thought represented by Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’.

Indeed, the Holy Father quotes with approval the remarks of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who has challenged us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air and its life – these are sins.”

Most importantly, the Holy Father boldly proclaims the sources of human misconduct: we live our lives within a technocratic economic paradigm, acting out of greed, selfishness and ignorance, focused on promoting our individual interests. We chose this way of life rather than seeking to live in harmonious community with all creatures, living the values of justice and compassion and love that lie at the heart of our faith tradition and most other faith traditions.

We must learn to govern our lives by these values and extend them to the whole of creation. As Pope Francis indicates, we need to change our overly consumptive lifestyles, and profoundly alter our society’s approach to water and other elements of nature, to address the critical water problems we have created. As WCC general secretary Tveit stated, Pope Francis has issued “a difficult call to conversion” which promises to lead us to a deeper spiritual connection with God’s creation. This process, the journey to a just relationship with all creation, is one in which “we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”

EWN builds the capacity of Christians and the churches to engage in the pilgrimage of water justice and offers a prophetic voice on their behalf in international policy arenas. We invite every person and organization, secular or faith-based, to participate or partner with EWN as we walk together on the pilgrimage of water justice.

Prepared by the EWN - International Reference Group – 2015