Religious Orders Bring Clout to War on Bottled Water

By Lloyd, Laura | National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2008 | Go to article overview

Religious Orders Bring Clout to War on Bottled Water


Lloyd, Laura, National Catholic Reporter


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If you want to get the lowdown on bottled water, listen to what the "Green Franciscan Sister" has to say. She is Sr. Janet Corcoran, vice president of mission service at Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria, Calif., and she is just one of the Catholic voices spreading the gospel that bottled water, however convenient to tote around, is environmentally, economically and politically wrong. She shares her viewpoints, among other places, in the form of "Environmental Tips from the Green Franciscan Sister" in a hospital publication. Corcoran feels strongly that "Sister Mother Earth" needs all the help she can get, especially when it comes to water.

"It's a matter of getting people to think more consciously about what they are doing," she said.

Concerns about bottled water are bubbling up in Catholic organizations, adding clout to a growing number of cities and secular organizations worried about the issue--with women religious strongly in the lead. Numerous women's religious orders are banning bottled water at their motherhouses, retreat houses and conference centers, and some are substituting refillable water bottles for the throwaway kind at sponsored events.

Among major incentives to get involved is the negative environmental impact of discarded plastic bottles, the oil required to make them, and the limited access to safe drinking water in developing countries--a problem even before big corporations got involved. (See accompanying story.) Here is one sobering statistic: The United Nations estimates that more than 1 billion people worldwide currently lack access to safe drinking water and that by 2025 two-thirds of the world's population will not have access to drinking water. When water is privatized and corporatized, the problem grows worse, advocates say.

Says Glenmary Fr. John S. Rausch, who writes, teaches and organizes in Appalachia: "Toting bottled water has a cachet of sophistication. But if people cared about the earth, they might not be flaunting their water bottles. We are destroying the sacramental system" of the wide availability of clean, free water when companies privatize water and sell it for a profit.

The Franciscan Federation, which includes nuns, priests and monks, has been engaged with the issue for the past three years, said Sr. Sharon Dillon, who recently ended her tenure as executive director of the Franciscan Federation and became director of the Franciscan Mission Service. She noted that the federation has a special tie to environmental issues because of the emphasis on nature in the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.

The federation has collaborated with Protestant churches in making interfaith statements at the World Water Forum. The Franciscans have also published articles highlighting the negatives of bottled water and hosted information workshops. Sometimes the activism takes the form of polite but pointed confrontations with beverage executives at shareholder meetings as well. Details of the Franciscan Federation's water campaign are on their Web site: www.franfed.org/water.

Among other signs of progress, the St. Louis-based Catholic Health Association provides water bottles that are meant to be refilled with local water at meetings and conventions. National Catholic Rural Life has been spreading the word among its members. The Sisters of Mercy, constructed their Mercy Center in St. Louis, which includes administrative offices and housing for retired sisters, as a green building that prohibits bottled water, among its other environmental initiatives, said Stephanie Heiland, director of communications. The National Coalition of American Nuns, a progressive organization representing 1,200 women religious, went on record more than a year ago with a resolution urging members to abstain from bottled water in most circumstances.

At the 115-year-old motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa, a recently renovated geothermal building is a bottled water free campus, with educational information available and bottled water removed from vending machines, said Sr. …

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