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Fr. Ferdidando Colombo: Giving Drink to the Thirsty

Actualizing the works of mercy through the eyes of Fr. Ferdinando Colombo

Eight hundred million people do not have a faucet in their homes, and according to estimates by WHO, the World Health Organization, more than 200 million children die each year as a result of consuming unhealthy water and the resulting poor sanitary conditions. Overall, it is estimated that 80 percent of diseases in countries of the Global South are due to poor water quality. Worldwide, 1.4 billion people on the planet lack access to clean water.

A North American citizen uses 1,700 cubic meters of water per year; the average in Africa is 250 cubic meters per year. The World Water Commission indicates 40 liters per person per day as the minimum amount to meet essential needs. With about 40 liters we Italians take a shower; for others it represents the water of entire weeks.

Italy is first in Europe for water consumption and third in the world with 1,200 cubic meters of consumption per year per capita. More than us only the United States and Canada. Compared to European parameters, however, we can only pass for wasteful: Italians consume almost eight times the water used in Britain, ten times that used by the Danes and three times what they consume in Ireland or Sweden.

Water has become the blue gold

While the water crisis is linked to multiple factors (increasing world population, increasing need for water for industrial, civil and agricultural uses, pollution of waterways and aquifers, climate change…), it requires policies inspired by cultural and human values of solidarity, not merely economic ones. The transition of water from a right to a commodity is one of the main reasons for injustice.

Pope Francis

“A particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor, which causes many deaths every day. Water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemicals, are common among the poor. Dysentery and cholera, due to inadequate sanitation and water supplies, are a significant factor in suffering and child mortality.” (Laudato si, 29)

“Access to safe and potable water is an essential, fundamental and universal human right, because it determines people’s survival, and therefore is a condition for the exercise of other human rights.” (Laudato si, 30)

“It is foreseeable that the control of water by large global corporations will turn into one of the main sources of conflict in this century.” (Laudato si, 31)

Drink is life. Just as any kind of plant existence needs water, so even more does a human being need it. It is more terrible to die of thirst than to die of hunger! From the very first moment of its existence, the creature needs nourishment. The newborn baby immediately seeks the mother’s breast; but even before birth the mother feeds it, so that the fetus can develop and grow, until it becomes – in some way – autonomous. In human life, eating and drinking are necessary, indispensable: not once in a while but always, every day, from birth to death!

As early as 1994 John Paul II, at World Food Day stressed the need to “…consider the importance of water for the life and livelihood of individuals and communities. Since everyone must have access to uncontaminated water supplies, the international community is called to cooperate in protecting this precious resource from inappropriate forms of use and its irrational waste. Without the inspiration that comes from moral principles deeply rooted in the hearts and consciences of men, the agreements and harmony that should exist internationally for the preservation and use of this essential resource will be difficult to maintain and carry forward.” All this can only lead to an awareness of the seriousness of the problem and to work at the political level to respond adequately to the desperate demand of those who ask for a drink. Otherwise the words “I was thirsty and you gave me no drink” (Mt 25:42) will judge and surprise even us.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” Thus begins a dialogue during which the woman does not draw water and Jesus does not drink it, but both show that the true water that can satiate is encounter and that true thirst is the desire for relationship.

And Jesus, by promising the water of the Spirit and revelation, promises the water that quenches thirst for eternal life. Jesus answered her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst again; on the contrary, the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into eternal life” (Jn. 4:3-42).

There is a statement of Jesus, reported only by John: “He who thirsts, let him come to me, and let him drink who believes in me; as the Scripture says, ‘rivers of living water will flow from his bosom.’ This he said, referring to the Spirit that believers in him would receive” (John 7:37-38).

Jesus says, “Whoever shall have given even a cup of fresh water to one of these little ones, because he is my disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward” (Mt.10:42).

And let us not forget that sorrowful cry of Jesus on the Cross, “I thirst!” which encompasses all the needs of suffering men, but also and primarily the suffering of God toward lost people. Yes, the Saints say, Jesus thirsts for us, He thirsts for people who are in danger of being lost, and His cry from the Cross seeks people to help Him quench this thirst by becoming His disciples to bring as many people as possible to Him. (Luciano Manicardi)


Thanks be to you, O God our Father,

Who in our Sister Water, thy creature, hast opened to us the womb of life;

thanks to you, for the wave that irrigates, the washing that purifies,

the drink that quenches, the fountain of our rebirth Christ your Son.

Grant, O Lord, that every man may always enjoy this refreshment

And keeping clear and chaste the work of creation,

see in it the reverberation of your goodness

and a constant invitation to purity of body and soul.

Through Christ our Lord.



Online version of the book by clicking on “The Work of Mercy – Fr. Ferdinando Colombo – browsable



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