I greet you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning. I would like to express thanks to our Lord God for the opportunity to be here during this Advent season and to celebrate together the closing of the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. We are thankful for the many ways in which we have been able to celebrate our talents and gifts, gifts which have been offered to the Church. The courageous effort and commitment of the women who have taken part in the Decade have benefited many. Our love for one another and the work of the Holy Spirit are the hope that keeps the churches alive and carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ.

Women from around the world joined in worship to celebrate the beginning of the Decade: throughout America, national and regional gatherings took place, as well as in more than a dozen other countries. Decade launchings in Asia included Easter morning sunrise services in Pakistan and the Philippines. In the United Kingdom, many people gathered for a service at Westminster Abbey, and in Methodist churches women preached at the Easter services. In Costa Rica an ecumenical group of over 150 women gathered to launch the Decade. Orthodox women from around the world met in Crete to celebrate. And throughout the United States, officials of programs and councils organized to coordinate Decade materials while other churches adopted specific resolutions to encourage Decade participation.

Midway through the Decade, ecumenical teams visited almost all the member churches to acknowledge and affirm what had taken place during the first half of the Decade, and to encourage the churches to move ahead in their commitments to their members. The 1997 report of the ecumenical teams, entitled Living Letters, documents the determination and endurance of women to overcome the difficulties of oppression that include violence, lack of participation in the life of the church, racism, and economic injustice. These difficulties plague many of our churches, in many regions, and are addressed in a variety of ways. Some difficulties are being addressed by women helping each other, and others have been approached as church organizations work together with secular groups to achieve their goals. The teams encountered the cultural, ecclesiastical, and local realities of the churches and responded by asking for concrete signs of the churches' solidarity with women. . . .

I have also been asked to speak for a moment on the symbol of the Decade Festival, which is water. Water has been carried from around the world to the Festival and is being presented here today. Church women from each geographical region have offered their water as a sign of solidarity with and commitment to one another and to the preservation of life.

Water has given rise to great civilizations and sometimes has been responsible for their destruction. Over hundreds of millions of years, it has been one of the most powerful instruments in shaping and reshaping the face of the earth, as frozen glaciers, flowing rivers, and oceans. Water regulates the climate, forms the soil in which crops and forests take root, and as steam or hydroelectric power, drives the mechanisms of modern technology. It is an indispensable ingredient in nearly all manufacturing processes, from the baking of bread to the production of microchips for computers.

Water plays a vital role in the affairs of the world, being essential for economic growth and development. In many countries, it is women who are responsible for the collecting and managing of water. Not having access to clean drinking water, they must travel long distances, taking many hours out of their day in search of water to sustain the health and well-being of their families.

Yet water is a paradox. It is scarce in some regions and overly abundant in others. It is a commodity which divides people and areas of the world, yet as a valuable and scarce resource has brought countries together for the development and management of transboundary water sources. It is known for its destructive capabilities, that have shown themselves clearly in the onslaughts of El Niño and, most recently, Hurricane Mitch, that have taken the lives of thousands. At the same time, these natural disasters revitalize the ecosystem, helping to detoxify inland and coastal waters.

Book cover: Turn to GodPhoto: Jennifer Wilson

However, there is one type of water for which no paradox exists: the living water offered by Jesus to St. Fotini, the woman at the well (John 4). Our Lord and Savior, looking into the heart of St. Fotini, realizes that she is in need of healing and offers the genuine healing, the truly vivifying experience, He offers her life everlasting. Through the water of baptism, Jesus "washes us with His own water from the filth of sin, which has disfigured the beauty of the image."1

Water, therefore, is not only a symbol of our solidarity with one another, but most important, a symbol of the renewal of our love for and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7: 17).

Note.

1. St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Beatitudes, 1, PG 44.1195.