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Canada: Church targets bottled water
Stuart Laidlaw - Toronto Star (Toronto)
Jesus turned it into wine, he washed his disciples' feet in it and walked across it, according to stories told in the Bible. Water is a sacred thing, the United Church of Canada says, and should not be bought and sold like any other commodity.
"It carries great spiritual strength for communities of faith," David Hallman, the church's director of energy and the environment, said in a telephone interview.
Water is an essential element of life, Hallman said, and so is considered as sacred as life itself.
"Because we see water as part of the fundamental elements of life, we see it as part of the public trust."
That's why Canada's largest Protestant church has launched a campaign to persuade people to stop buying bottled water. Already, many of its more than 3,600 congregations have stopped serving water at church functions.
The campaign was officially launched this summer at the church's general council meeting in Thunder Bay, at which a motion to push for an end to the privatization of water was adopted.
The church is one of many faith groups to have embraced water as a major theological theme over the past year.
Toronto's annual multi-denominational Easter Walk, for instance, had a water theme this year, with churchgoers joined by activists as they marched through the downtown.
At stops throughout the walk, members of Catholic, Anglican and United Churches explored various issues surrounding water, including privatization and difficulties by the world's poor to access clean water.
Kairos, a Toronto-based inter-religious group, helped organize the walk.
The group has been actively campaigning against water privatization for two years.
One of Kairos' member groups, the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, launched a similar campaign in 2003.
At a recent meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in Cornwall, however, bottled water was offered to attendees, with most participants availing themselves of the free bottles throughout the week-long session.
Elizabeth Griswold, executive director of the Canadian Bottled Water Association, said bottled water makes a healthy alternative to juices or soft drinks high in sugar or caffeine.
"The primary reason consumers choose bottled water is as an alternative to other packaged beverages," she said, adding that most people drink both tap and bottled water.
"They are not always satisfied with the aesthetic qualities of their tap water."
Sales haven't dropped because of thecampaign, she said.
Griswold said it is not fair to single out water as sacred.
"Bottled water is one of thousands of food products in Canada, around the world, that uses water as an ingredient," she said. "By focusing solely on bottled water, it's making no sense."
Organized religion's adoption of water as an important issue follows years of work by left-leaning groups on the matter.