Pope calls for Italians to have more babies as birthrate drops across Europe

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Pope Francis has urged Italians to have more children as Europe is hit by tumbling birthrates.

Talking on Friday the Pope called for long-term policies to help families and warning that the country’s demographic crisis was threatening the future.

“The number of births is the first indicator of the hope of a people,” Francis told an annual gathering of pro-family groups. “Without children and young people, a country loses its desire for the future.”

It was Francis’ latest appeal for Italy – and beyond that Europe – to invert what he has called the demographic winter facing many industrialized countries.

Italy’s birth rate, already one of the lowest in the world, has been falling steadily for about 15 years and reached a record low last year with 379,000 babies born.

With the Vatican’s strong backing, the right-wing government of Premier Giorgia Meloni has mounted a campaign to encourage at least 500,000 births annually by 2033, a rate that demographers say is necessary to prevent the economy from collapsing under the weight of Italy’s aging population.

Francis called for long-term political strategies and policies to encourage couples to have children, including an end to precarious work contracts and impediments to buying homes, and viable alternatives so women don’t have to choose between motherhood and careers.

“The problem of our world is not children being born: it is selfishness, consumerism and individualism which make people sated, lonely and unhappy," Francis said.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni delivers her speech during conference on birthrate, at Auditorium della Conciliazione (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Francis is expected to continue emphasizing his demographic call during the upcoming 2025 Holy Year, which has hope as its main theme. In the official Jubilee decree, or papal bull, that was promulgated Thursday, Francis called for a new social covenant among Christians to encourage couples to be open to having children.

Elsewhere in Europe Greece has recorded the lowest number of births in 92 years, according to most recent data, driven by the debt crisis that led to years of austerity and emigration, and changed attitudes among the young.

Greece’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in Europe: some villages have not recorded a single birth in years.

The government is planning to unveil new measures to boost birthrates.

The plan includes cash benefits for families, affordable housing for young people, financial incentives for assisted reproduction, and incorporating migrants into the workforce, according to officials drafting the initiatives including the family minister.

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