VATICAN CITY ([ http://www.catholicnews.com/data/briefs/cns/20110614.htm ]CNS) — A referendum in Italy has spotlighted an emerging social justice issue for the Catholic Church: access to safe water as a basic human right. Italians went to the polls June 12-13 and voted overwhelmingly to revoke a decree that imposed the privatization of water resources. The issue stirred an unusually intense debate, with church leaders arguing that water is the archetypal “gift from God” that should not be polluted by the profit motive. On June 9, a group of more than 100 missionary priests and nuns fasted and prayed in St. Peter’s Square to underline their support for the referendum and their opposition to the privatization of water. Beneath Pope Benedict XVI’s windows, they unfurled a giant banner reading: “Lord, help us save the water!” The next day, the Vatican’s Cardinal Peter Turkson weighed in. Cardinal Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said water distribution should be a service provided by governments to their citizens as part of their role in protecting the common good. Some 25 Italian dioceses signed an appeal asking for a “yes” vote to preserve water as a universally shared resource.
Franciscans in Assisi asked prayers and action in defense of “sister water.” Bishop Mariano Crociata, secretary-general of the Italian bishops’ conference, said recently that access to clean water supplies was a “fundamental human right, connected to the very right to life.” He warned that privatization efforts have seen multinational companies “turn water into business” to the detriment of the wider population. Catholic lay groups moved into action to promote a high turnout for the referendum, which needed 50 percent of eligible Italians to vote. In the end, that threshold was easily surpassed.