During his General Audience Wednesday, Pope Francis continued his reflections on the family, focusing this week on children. The Pope said that a society’s attitude toward children tells a lot about it, adding European societies that don’t value children are “depressed.”
“Just think of many of the societies we know here in Europe,” Francis said. “They are depressed societies, because they don’t want children, they don’t have children, and the birthrate doesn’t even make it to one percent.”
The Pope’s comments came on the heels of a series of recent statements on family size. On the flight home from the Philippines last month, Francis said that good Catholics need not “breed like rabbits,” yet insisted that children are always a blessing and has heaped praise on large families, saying that “the children of a large family are more capable of fraternal communion.”
On Wednesday, Francis asked the crowd why Europe’s birthrate was so low. “Everyone can think it over and come up with an answer,” he said. “When a family with plenty of kids is seen as a burden, something is not right!”
A society that thinks of children as “a worry, a burden and a risk,” said Francis, “is a depressed society.”
Francis said that procreation should be responsible, but “having lots of kids isn’t necessarily an irresponsible decision.” In fact, he said, “not having kids is a selfish choice.”
“Life is enriched and invigorated when it multiplies,” he said. “It gets richer, not poorer!”
Francis has been critical of European society, especially its attitude toward human life.
Last November, the Pope addressed the European Parliament, saying that Europe is often perceived as “elderly and haggard,” like a “grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.” As a result, the rest of the world looks upon it “with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion.”
On that occasion, Francis said that Europe risks reducing people to “mere cogs in a machine,” so that “whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb.”
On Wednesday, Pope Francis said that the honor of a society comes from the honor within families. “A society of children who don’t honor their parents is a society without honor. When a person doesn’t honor his parents, his loses his own honor!” he said.
He said that the prophet Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of family life, a picture of happiness that takes place in the reunion between parents and children, walking together towards a future of freedom and peace, after a long time of hardship and separation, when the Jewish people were far from home.”
“Children are the joy of family and society,” Francis said. “The joy of children warms the hearts of parents and reopens the future.”
Francis also insisted that children are not a right, but rather a gift. “Each is unique and unrepeatable, and yet unmistakably tied to their roots,” he said.
The Pope recalled that when he was a boy his mother, who had five kids, would sometimes be asked who her favorite was. His mom would answer, “I have five children, just as I have five fingers. [Showing his fingers] If I hit one, it hurts; if I hit another one, it hurts, too. All five hurt. All five are my children, but they are all different like the fingers of a hand.”
“You love your child just because he is your child,” Francis said, “and not because he’s beautiful, or because he is this or that; no, because he is your child!”
“Your child is your child,” he said, “generated by his parents but destined for himself, his own good, and the good of the family, society and humanity itself.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter: @tdwilliamsrome.