VATICAN CITY, MARCH 3, 2004 ( Water is a "gift of God" and a "right of all," John Paul II said in a message to Brazil's bishops for the 2004 Fraternity Campaign.

This national program, which began with Lent, is centered this year on the theme "Fraternity and Water." Its motto is "Water, Source of Life." The recent papal message, addressed to Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, president of Brazilian bishops' conference and archbishop of São Salvador, clarifies that "insofar as a gift of God, water is a vital instrument, indispensable for survival and, moreover, a right of all."

"It is necessary to pay attention to the problems that derive from its evident scarcity in many parts of the world, not just in Brazil," the Pope stated.

"Water is not an unlimited resource," he wrote. "Its rational and solidaristic use calls for the collaboration of all people of good will with the proper governmental authorities to effectively protect the environment, considered as a gift of God."

"Therefore, it is a question that must be resolved by establishing moral criteria necessarily based on the value of life and respect for the rights and the dignity of all human beings," the Holy Father emphasized in his message to the Fraternity Campaign, which is celebrating its 40th year.

Lent, he continued, is "a period in which every Christian of the country is invited to reflect in a particular way on the diverse social situations of the Brazilian population that require greater fraternity."

Auxiliary Bishop Odilo Pedro Scherer of São Paulo explained that water resources in Brazil run the risk of being contaminated "even in areas where one would say this is impossible, as in Amazonia, where on many occasions chemical products have contaminated immense rivers."

"Moreover, we are concerned by the privatization of water, as in many parts of Brazil and the world, water obeys the laws of the market," he explained on Vatican Radio.

"We believe that water not only is a consumer good, but a good to which all human beings have a right, even if they don't have money," he continued, explaining the reason for the theme of this year's Fraternity Campaign.