Pope Francis at the “General States of Births” in Rome Pope Francis at the “General States of Births” in Rome  (Vatican Media)

Pope Francis: Family is the future of society

Speaking at a conference in Rome on Italy's dearth of babies, Pope Francis highlights the urgent need for joint efforts to support families to address the demographic crisis, warning that “savage” free-market conditions are preventing young people from having children.

By Lisa Zengarini

Parents, and especially women, need more support and security if countries such as Italy are to reverse the course of the  “demographic winter”, Pope Francis said on Friday.

Addressing participants in the third edition of the “General States of Births”, meeting in Rome this week and attended by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the Pope highlighted that the issue of birth rates is crucial for the future of our societies.  

“Indeed, the birth of children is the main indicator for measuring the hope of a people,” he said. “If few are born, it means that there is little hope.”

The demographic crisis in Italy

Italy’s birth rate has been shrinking for years, and in 2022 hit a new historic low with only 393,000 new born, with heavy economic and social repercussions, specifically on the welfare system.

These data, noted the Pope, reveal a “feeling of precariousness” and growing concerns of young people  for the future, which wars, the pandemic, mass displacements and the climate crisis have contributed to accentuate.  

Building a family has become a "titanic effort", especially for women 

“They live in a social climate in which starting a family is turning into a titanic effort, rather than a shared value that everyone recognizes and supports”, he noted , pointing to the difficulty of finding stable jobs, prohibitively expensive housing,  skyrocketing rents and insufficient wages.

In this context, he acknowledged in particular the “almost insurmountable constraints” on young women forced to choose between their career and motherhood.

Pope addressing the “General States of Births” in Rome
Pope addressing the “General States of Births” in Rome

The family is not part of the problem, but part of its solution

All these problems challenge political authorities, because the free market, “without the necessary corrective measures, becomes savage and produces increasingly serious situations and inequalities”.

“One does not overcome a crisis alone: either we all get out of it or we don't get out of it; and we do not emerge from the crisis the same: we will emerge better or worse. This is today's crisis.”

At the same time , the demographic crisis calls into question the current individualistic culture which privileges individual rights and freedoms, while ignoring the rights of families, the Pope added, lamenting that pets are replacing children in some households.

Hence the urgent need for a joint effort and for “forward-looking policies” to counteract this demographic winter, bearing in mind that  “the family is not part of the problem, but part of its solution”.

“We cannot passively accept that so many young people struggle to realise their family dream and are forced to lower the bar of desire, settling for mediocre substitutes: making money, aiming for a career, travelling, jealously guarding leisure time,” the Pope remarked .

“We must face the problem together, without ideological barriers and preconceived positions.”

Welcoming children and welcoming immigrants

Pope Francis went on to highlight the close link between welcoming children and welcoming immigrants which, he said, “are two sides of the same coin”, and “reveal to us how much happiness there is in society”.

“A happy community naturally develops the desire to generate and integrate”, he said, “while an unhappy society is reduced to a sum of individuals trying to defend what they have at all costs”.

A matter of hope

Bringing his address to a close, Pope Francis reiterated that the challenge of birth rate is a matter of hope”, which, he warned, “is not an illusion or emotion”,  but  a “concrete virtue” nourished “by everyone's commitment to goodness”.

“Feeding hope is therefore a social, intellectual, artistic, political action in the highest sense of the word. It is putting one's skills and resources at the service of the common good, it is sowing the future. Hope generates change and improves the future.”

He therefore upheld the “General States of Births” as an “opportunity to create a great alliance of hope”. “Indeed”, he said “hope calls us to get going to find solutions” to the crisis. “Reviving the birth rate means repairing the forms of social exclusion that are affecting young people and their future, “ the Pope concluded.

“Children are not individual goods, but people who contribute to the growth of all, bringing human and generational wealth.”

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12 May 2023, 12:05