Water: from religious symbolism to international advocacy

by Guillermo Kerber Mas last modified 04 April 2019 06:13 PM
Water: from religious symbolism to international advocacy

Blessing of the waters celebrated at the Ecumenical Centre according to the Orthodox tradition. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

04 April 2019

On 28 March, representatives of the World Council of Churches attended a seminar entitled “From the religious symbolism of water to international advocacy" as part of the Festival Histoire et Cité (History and City) organized by the University of Geneva. The seminar was an initiative of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Formation Services in collaboration with the Continuing Education Programme of the Public Education Department of the Canton of Geneva. Participants were teachers working at primary, secondary and pre-university public schools in Geneva. Others included university students and professionals from the Catholic and Protestant church in Geneva.

The programme began with presentations on the “symbolic meaning of water in different religions,” followed by presentations on the “international advocacy for the right to water and sanitation.”

The coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Water Network, Dinesh Suna, participated in the roundtable. Prof. Teny Pirri-Simonian, a former staff of WCC and current WCC Central Committee member, also joined to present the work of network in French. Together, they underlined the importance of celebrating the sanctity of water in Christianity and also of advancing the human right to water through international advocacy.

They drew attention to the WCC's Lenten campaign on water justice, popularly known as the Seven Weeks for Water, as an excellent opportunity to sensitize WCC member churches on issues related to water as a spiritual symbol. They emphasized that this campaign since 2008 has been producing a series of contextual Bible studies on water, relating to the water crisis in different parts of the world.

Water event at Geneva university

Responding to a question on why the Ecumenical Water Network is focusing more on the human right to water rather than human responsibility to protect our waters, which are subjected to abuse and waste, Suna answered, "Unlike the people of developed countries like Switzerland, globally almost 1 in every three persons do not have access to safely managed drinking water. Therefore, it is important to talk about the human right to water. Besides, the ‘virtual water’ footprint through the food we eat or the clothes we wear is way higher than the physical use of water for drinking and sanitation, which amounts to only 10% of total freshwater consumption."

Earlier in the round table, Stefan Constantinescu, co-director of the Study Center of Oriental Churches at the University of Fribourg and professor at the Atelier Oecuménique de Théologie (Ecumenical Theological Workshop) was invited to speak. Constantinescu began with citing the Biblical roots of water as a source of purification and life and continued with the use of water in the Orthodox liturgical tradition. In his conclusion, he said baptism and the Feast of Theophany remind the faithful of the power of the holy water in transforming human desecration.

The next speaker was Hafid Ouardiri, director of the Foundation Entre-connaissance, vice-president of the Interreligious Platform of Geneva, and founding member of the Spiritual Call of Geneva. Ouardiri stated that water is mentioned 60 times in the Qur’an, starting with the creation story. He then added that the Hajj (pilgrimage) reminds the pilgrims of the healing and sustaining the power of the water from the holy Zamzam well in Makkah and linked it to the story of Hagar and Ishmael in the desert. He concluded that water could be a healing, sustaining, purifying and flourishing resource but also destructive, depending on how we use it.

Vanessa Trüb read the presentation of Marie Cénec, pastor of the Protestant Church in Geneva. Cénac focussed on water from an eco-theological perspective, highlighting the intimate link between water and life.


The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

More information.