By John Thavis, Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A referendum in Italy has spotlighted an emerging social justice issue for the Catholic church: access to safe water as a basic human right.
Italians were going to the polls June 12-13 to decide whether to revoke a decree that imposed the privatization of water resources. The issue has 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, the Vatican's Cardinal Peter Turkson weighed in. Cardinal 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.