By Bishop Edward J. Burns
April 2016 Southeast Alaska Catholic
Over the past few weeks as we have celebrated the Easter liturgies, I have been using the sprinkling rite at Mass to remind us of the waters of Baptism and how we are washed clean of our sins through Christ. I cannot help but to chuckle to myself when I see the faces of people as I approach with the holy water and the aspergillum (liturgical implement used to sprinkle holy water). Some people start to cringe and grimace thinking that they are going to be struck in the face with this reminder of their baptism. In actuality, the goal is to aim over their heads so that the water comes down upon them from above.
The gift of water has been on my mind recently as I returned last month from a trip to Nicaragua. I am privileged to serve as a member of the board of directors for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and as board members we are strongly encouraged to visit the sites where CRS has had an impact in helping people — where profound poverty exists, where natural disasters may have occurred, or where there is a need for the development of the common good. In Nicaragua I saw first hand the wonderful blessings that come from the CRS Rice Bowl collection after a season of Lenten self-denial and charitable giving.
In the course of our week-long visit to Nicaragua, our group of five drove hours from the city of Managua to San Jacinto Tizate. We were joined by a number of local CRS staff who showed us the good work they do. One staff member, a civil engineer by the name of Raquel Porras, showed us a water pumping station that CRS facilitated in order to provide fresh water to 192 families who previously had to walk over three hours to carry water to their simple dirt-floored homes. The matriarch of one family (dressed in her finest outfit) described the blessings of this project. With a simple pipe and spigot that came up out of the dirt floor, she described how the access to fresh water in their home has changed their lives and improved their quality of life. Their lifestyle changed dramatically—parents no longer have to walk in the middle of the night to bring water back to the house in time for their children to get ready for school; they are able to establish a good practice of hygiene, to shower, wash their clothes/dishes, and to do all this while saving countless hours a week/month from having to carry the water from the community well.
I recall the image of Raquel standing inside the water pumping station describing how hundreds of people have benefited from this one project, and I could not help but rejoice in this great achievement of CRS. It is a modern day ability to fulfill our Christian mission—“But Lord, when did we see you thirsty and give you drink?”
Our Easter celebrations, as well as the recent events I have experienced, have brought me to reflect on the newness of life within the Church and the gifts of new life through water. I am mindful of those who have been received into the Church through baptism and the Easter sacraments. This is an opportunity for me to express, on behalf of all the parishioners of the Catholic community in Southeast Alaska, a word of welcome. It is my hope that new members of the Church find in their faith journey with us, through the sacraments of the Church, a welcomed place where they feel at home with the Lord. Allow me to encourage all new members to stay strong in the faith and to continue to learn, with all of us, the great richness of our Catholic tradition. At the same time, I am grateful for all those who help to provide catechetical programs in our parishes. Like Raquel, they are providing life-giving water.
When I think of my recent travels and liturgical experiences, I think of people receiving the gift of water—those who were welcomed into the Church through baptism, those who renewed their baptismal promises in the sprinkling rite, and those who received the gift of water through the charitable gift of others. On their faces, and most clearly on the face of a Nicaraguan mother who received the gift of fresh, running water in her home, I have personally seen the expressions of joy and gratitude for that gift of new life.