Italy's Water Works

A referendum in Italy has spotlighted an emerging social justice issue: access to safe water as a basic human right. Italians went to the polls on June 12-13 and voted overwhelmingly to revoke the proposed privatization of Italy’s water systems. 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, Cardinal Peter 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.

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