On Monday, 21 March, the Holy Father received in audience volunteers of the “Ho Avuto Sete” organization (“I was thirsty”). During his address, he thanked the volunteers for their work and denounced the scandal of allocating excessive amounts of money to arms, which “means taking it away from something else, which means continuing to take it away yet again, from those who lack the basic necessities”. The following is a translation of the Pope’s address which he delivered in Italian in the Clementine Hall.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Good morning and welcome!
I thank the President for her words, and I am pleased to welcome you, 10 years on from the beginning of your volunteer experience. Since then, you have been united by a clear and urgent aim: to bring drinking water to those who do not have it. And Jesus’ words: “I was thirsty” (Mt 25:35) have become your name and your motto. I congratulate you!
Access to water, in particular to clean and drinkable water, is by now a critical point for the human family’s present and near future (cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ 27-31). It is a priority issue for life on the planet and for peace among peoples. It affects us all. However, in the world, especially in Africa, there are populations that suffer more than others from a lack of access to this primary good. This is why you have implemented your humanitarian projects in Africa; in many countries and in various regions of the continent. This is very good. Likewise it is very good that the work is always carried out with local workers and in collaboration with the missionaries and ecclesial communities of the area.
“I was thirsty, and you gave me drink”, says Jesus, adding, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:35, 40). Dear friends, thirst does not feel so bad when there is plenty of water to drink. But we know that, if it is lacking, and lacking for a long time, thirst can become unbearable. Life on Earth depends on water; even the lives of us human beings. We all need sister water to live!
Why, then, wage war on each other over conflicts that we should resolve by talking to each other as fellow people? Why not rather join our forces and resources to fight together the real battles of civilization: the fight against hunger and thirst; the fight against disease and epidemics; the fight against today’s poverty and slavery? Why? Certain choices are not neutral: to allocate a large part of spending to weapons means taking it away from something else, which means continuing to take it away yet again, from those who lack the basic necessities. And this is a scandal: spending on weapons. How much is spent on weapons, terrible! I don’t know what percentage of gdp , I don’t know, I don’t have the exact figure, but a high percentage. And we spend on arms in order to wage wars, not only this one, which is very serious, and that we are experiencing now. We feel it more because it is closer, but there are continuous wars in Africa, in the Middle East, in Asia. This is serious. We need to create the awareness that continuing to spend on weapons sullies the soul, sullies the heart, sullies humanity. What is the use of solemnly committing ourselves all together, on an international level, in campaigns against poverty, against hunger, against the degradation of the planet, if we then fall back into the old vice of war, into the old strategy of the power of armaments, which takes everything and everyone backwards? A war always takes you backwards, always. We walk backwards. We will have to start over again.
Dear brothers and sisters, as you can see, despite being small compared to these great problems, your organization is working on a critical point, and is doing it well, in the right way; as are, thank God, so many other volunteer organizations in Italy and throughout the world. And I would like to say that I was surprised to find such a strong sector of volunteers here in Italy: I have not seen it elsewhere. This is your cultural, Italian heritage, which you must preserve well. You have a solid volunteer sector and this association is also an important volunteer activity. I thank you for this, and I encourage you to continue in your efforts. I warmly bless all of you and all those who work with you in the various projects. And I also ask you for the gift of praying for me. Thank you!