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Pope Francis speaks at the conference on Friday Pope Francis speaks at the conference on Friday  (Vatican Media)

Pope Francis: 'A society that does not welcome life stops living'

Pope Francis highlights the importance of solidarity, improving the birth rate, protecting the family, and generational sustainability, in his address at a meeting on the “General States of Birth” in Italy.

By Vatican News staff writer

Pope Francis opened the meeting on the “General States of Birth”, which held on Friday at the Auditorium della Conciliazione, close to the Vatican.

The initiative, organized by the “Forum for Family Associations”, aims to explore the demographic crisis in Italy, which has been further brought to the fore by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that has resulted in increasing levels of poverty among families. The meeting gathered experts and high-level Italian officials, including Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

In his speech, Pope Francis applauded the initiative, stressing that it is essential to get Italy moving again, “starting with life and with the human being.”

Low birth rates

Providing some context to the demographic situation in the country, Pope Francis noted that according to the data, “most young people want to have children, but their dreams of life…clash with a demographic winter, still cold and dark: only half of young people believe they will be able to have two children in their lifetime.”

He further noted that Italy has had some of the lowest birth rates in Europe, transforming it into an old country, not because of its history but rather because of the advanced age of the people. In fact, in 2020, “Italy reached the lowest number of births since national unity, not because of Covid-19, but because of a continuous, progressive downward trend, an increasingly harsh winter.”

Moreover, the Italian President had stressed the importance of the birth rate as “the most critical reference point of this season”, because “families are not the connective tissue of Italy, families are Italy.”

Protecting the family

To remedy the situation, the Pope highlighted the importance of taking care of families, especially young families who are assailed by worries that risk paralyzing their life plans.

In this regard, Pope Francis turned his thoughts to those affected by the uncertainty of work, or the high cost of raising children, as well as to the many families that have had to work overtime between work and school, with parents and grandparents playing different roles to take care of the family.

He also lamented the plight of working women who are discouraged from having children, or those who have to hide their protruding bellies.

“It is society that should be ashamed, not the woman,” the Pope said. “Because a society that does not welcome life stops living. Children are the hope that makes a people reborn!"

Pope Francis greets children at the conference
Pope Francis greets children at the conference

The Pope, however, acknowledged a law that provides an allowance for every child that is born, adding that it will go a long way to meet the concrete needs of families and will mark the start of social reforms that put children and families at the center.

“If families are not at the center of the present, there will be no future; but if families restart, everything restarts,” he stressed.

The “gift”

The Pope then went on to offer three thoughts that could be useful on the path out of the “demographic winter.”

The first thought, said the Pope, “revolves around the word ‘gift’.”

“Every gift is received, and life is the first gift that everyone has received. No one can give it to himself. First of all, there was a gift.”

He added that we have all received a gift and we are called to pass it on, and a child is the greatest gift for everyone and thus comes first.

He further underlined that “the lack of children, which causes an ageing population, implicitly affirms that everything ends with us, that only our individual interests count.” This, he noted, is common in more affluent, consumerist societies marked with more indifference and less solidarity.

Pope Francis urged everyone to help each other “to rediscover the courage to give, the courage to choose life”, because it is “is creative and does not accumulate or multiply what already exists, but opens up to newness.”

Generational sustainability

The Pope’s second consideration centered on sustainability. He noted that even as we speak of economic, technological and environmental sustainability, we should also consider generational sustainability.

“We will not be able to feed production and protect the environment if we do not pay attention to families and children. Sustainable growth comes from here,” the Pope underlined.

The Pope on stage during the General States of Birth
The Pope on stage during the General States of Birth

He recalled that during the reconstruction phases after the wars that devastated Europe in the past, “there was no restart without an explosion of births, without the ability to instill confidence and hope in the younger generations.”

Likewise, today, he continued, “we find ourselves in a situation of re-starting, as difficult as it is full of expectations.” We, therefore, cannot follow short-sighted models of growth, since the birth rate and the pandemic call for “change and responsibility.”

The role of schools

Pope Francis then stressed the role of schools, in addition to the primary role of families.

“It cannot be a factory of notions to be poured over individuals; it must be the privileged time for encounter and human growth. At school, one does not mature only through grades, but through the faces one meets.”

He stressed the importance of lofty models “which form hearts as well as minds”, especially for young people who are exposed to the world of entertainment and sports and who see “models who only care about appearing always beautiful, young and fit.”

“Young people do not grow thanks to the fireworks of appearance, they mature if attracted by those who have the courage to pursue big dreams, to sacrifice themselves for others, to do good to the world in which we live,” the Pope said.

Structural solidarity

The third word the Pope proposed was “solidarity”. He called for a “structural” solidarity that gives stability to the structures supporting families and helping birth rates, which require “policies, economics, information, and a culture that courageously promotes childbirth.”

On this issue, Pope Francis stated the need for “far-reaching, forward-looking family policies: not based on the search for immediate consensus, but on the growth of the common good in the long term,” adding that “there is an urgent need to offer young people guarantees of sufficiently stable employment, security for their homes and incentives not to leave the country.”

Continuing, he said that solidarity should also be expressed in the service of information, especially today when twists and turns and strong words are fashionable. Here, “the criterion for educating by informing is not the audience, not controversy, but human growth,” the Pope stressed.

He further added that we need “family-size information, where people talk about others with respect and delicacy as if they were their own relatives. And that at the same time brings to light the interests and plots that damage the common good, the maneuvers that revolve around money, sacrificing families and individuals.”

No future without childbirth

Concluding his address, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude for the initiative and all who believe in human life and in the future.

“Sometimes you will feel as if you are shouting in the desert, fighting against windmills,” the Pope said. “But go ahead, do not give up, because it is beautiful to dream the good and build the future. And without births, there is no future.”

14 May 2021, 11:40