The 86-year-old pope opened the second day of a conference in Rome that brings together politicians, business and society officials to discuss the sharp decline in the number of births in Italy, a figure that experts warn will impoverish the country.
For the first time last year, the number of births in Italy fell below the 400,000 threshold, to 393,000, according to the National Statistical Institute (ISTAT).
This figure compares to 713,499 deaths out of a population of about 58 million.
Pope Francis, who was greeted with standing ovations when appearing on the podium to address the conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, said that today’s younger generations “live in a social climate in which having a family turns into a titanic effort, rather than a shared value recognized and supported by all.” “.
He explained that the younger generations suffer “more than anyone else from a sense of instability, where the future seems like a mountain impossible to climb. Difficulty finding stable work, difficulty maintaining it, expensive homes, high rents and insufficient wages. All of these things.” They are real problems,” according to the official Vatican website.
“We need to prepare a fertile ground for a new spring to bloom and leave behind this demographic winter,” he said, calling for “launching processes that give impetus and life to Italy, Europe and the world.”
“To reinvigorate births means to reform the forms of social exclusion that affect young people and their future,” the pontiff added.
– ‘A world without children’ –
“Have you ever imagined a world without children?” was the provocative question used in publicity for the conference organized by the Birthrate Foundation, a group with links to Catholic associations that advocate for the concept of the family.
Despite the religious ties, conference speakers steered clear of some of the more controversial issues related to Italy’s population decline, such as abortion, the use of incubators and mass immigration.
Speakers focused primarily on solutions including social welfare, childcare promotion and tax relief.
However, Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, a key figure in Meloni’s far-right party, indicated Thursday during the congress that the issue of births is of concern “because we want to protect the culture and languages of Italy.”
He denied it had anything to do with “race” after he came under fire from the opposition last month for warning of “ethnic replacement” in Italy by immigrants.
Meloni, who won the most female vote in the September elections but does not consider herself a feminist, made mothers and families a central part of her discourse.
In her speech Friday, she criticized what she called the “dominant culture” for making the topic of families almost taboo.
“We live in an age when talking about the birth rate, motherhood and the family is much more difficult, and sometimes it seems like a revolutionary act,” Meloni said.
“We no longer want it to be scandalous to say that we are all born of a man and a woman, and that it is not taboo to say that the birth rate is not for sale, that the womb cannot be rented, that children are not a commodity that can be chosen and then perhaps returned,” she added.
Italy’s population continued to grow until 2014, when it began to decline.
Thursday, Italian Minister of Economy Giancarlo Giorgetti warned that by 2042, a decline in the birth rate in Italy will lead to a decline in GDP by 18%.