Friday, October 15, 2010


When someone comes to your house to ask for water, it is Christ if you look at this person with faith.

-- Óscar Romero,
March 16, 1980 Sermon

Archbishop Romero spoke many times about the sacred meaning of water in the symbolism of the Holy Scriptures and the liturgy of the Church. In Christian practice, water figures most prominently in Baptism. Romero spoke about it many times in that context. (See, e.g., 4/7/1977 Sermon.) In the Middle Eastern symbolism of the Bible, Isaiah compares God in the world to a spring in the desert (12/5/1977 sermon) and Jesus compares himself to water for those who thirst (12/17/1978 Sermon). In fact, Romero especially liked the parables wherein Christ tells a Samaritan woman that He is that water which does not lead to further thirst (8/19/1979 Sermon). Sometimes, water figures in miraculous references: God gives Moses water extracted from rocks (10/14/1979 Sermon); Jesus turns water into wine (1/20/1980 Sermon). But, other times, water figures dramatically in a mundane context: the Hebrews suffer thirst during their desert Exodus (5/28/1978 Sermon) and Christ suffers thirst on the Cross (3/24/1978 Sermon). Sometimes, water is represented as a saving grace: as when it bursts from Christ's wound (4/13/1979 Sermon) or in the context of Christian purification by rebirth from water & the Holy Spirit (4/12/1979 Sermon). Sometimes it is even presented as an illusory desert mirage (5/12/1977 Sermon).

In short, water was a potent and constant symbol in Romero's preaching, so that when Romero spoke about water, it was enfused with a sacred subtext, which harkened back to the creation story from Genesis. (1/20/1980, Supra.). As this primordial symbol of creation, water was shorthand for ecological concerns:

You know that the air and water are being polluted, as is everything we touch and live with. We go on corrupting the nature that we need. We do not realize that we have a commitment to God to take care of nature. To cut down a tree, to waste water when there is such a great lack of it, to let buses poison our atmosphere with those noxious fumes from their exhausts, to burn garbage haphazardly -- all of this concerns our covenant with God ... My dear sisters and brothers in El Salvador, let us not continue to kill and make worse the things of created nature but let us give a religious meaning to our relationship with the cosmos. Our commitment to God demands our collaboration.
(3/11/1979 Sermon)

As was true of the rest of Archbishop Romero's preaching, this theological mandate for environmental responsibility was not relegated to pious contemplation. Archbishop Romero translated it to concrete terms. In a poverty stricken land, bountiful natural resources does not translate to a just distribution of those resources, and Romero lamented in his 1979 Palm Sunday sermon that, "Among the people who today go out to meet the Redeemer, 48% who live in the rural areas do not have running water; 66% of all the people in El Salvador have no electricity and in the rural areas 93% of the homes have no electricity." (4/8/1979 Sermon.) Ironically, most electricity in El Salvador is a byproduct of water resources, as it is generated in hydroelectric plants. When the Salvadoran water utility, ANDA, took the initiative to address the scarcity of this resource, Romero made it a point to encourage the initiative: "We are also happy that ANDA is concerned about providing water to our people. We see in many places of San Salvador, not only in the areas of our campesinos, that people spend much time and exert great effort in looking for water and carrying this precious liquid to their homes in jars and barrels. We hope that ANDA can resolve these great problems of our people." (6/4/1978 Sermon.) When Father Hermógenes López, a champion of water rights among the poor of Panama, was killed, Romero called him a "martyr." (7/16/1978 Sermon.)

Romero himself noted that, "The water that our thirsty mouths drink with such longing has a unique language." (2/26/1978 Sermon.) "[W]hen Christ, our Lord, wants to explain the meaning of the redemption that he gives to humankind as a gift, he uses the following words: let those who are thirsty come to me and drink." (Id.) And, "I believe that among Jesus’ many different explanations of redemption," Romero avows, "none is more beautiful than" Jesus' remark to the Samaritan woman that he is the water that quenches all thirst. (Id.) Archbishop Romero recognized the sanctity of water as a symbol, and decried the sacrilege of "corrupting" this symbol of creation. But he also denounced the real world consequences of ecological abuse and social injustice that flowed from the underlying sin.

Offered on Blog Action Day dedicated to water rights, October 15, 2010.
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