Pope Francis: Europe’s Demographic Winter a ‘Serious Matter,’ ‘Cannot Be Ignored’

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ROME — Pope Francis warned again of Europe’s “demographic winter” on Friday, caused by a dangerously low birthrate far beneath replacement levels.

“The family – as we know – is the main antidote to poverty, both material and spiritual, as it is also to the problem of demographic winter or irresponsible motherhood and fatherhood,” the pontiff told members of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PASS).

“The demographic winter is a serious matter,” he stressed. “Here in Italy, it is a serious matter compared to other countries in Europe. It cannot be ignored – it is a serious matter.”

Last December, Francis lamented Italy’s plunging birthrate, following the release of statistics showing the nation’s natality fell to a record low in 2020, registering just 1.17 births per woman among Italian citizens.

“I have a concern, a real concern, at least here in Italy: the demographic winter,” the pope said. “It seems that many couples prefer not to have children or to have only one child. Think about this. It is a tragedy.”

The pope said he had just watched a program on Italian television exploring the serious fallout to be expected from the nation’s population implosion.

“Let us do everything possible to regain an awareness to overcome this demographic winter that goes against our families, our country, and even our future,” he said.

The PASS met in a plenary session this week for a three-day conference titled: ‘The family as relational good: the challenge of love.’

“The family is almost always at the top of the scale of values of different peoples, because it is inscribed in the very nature of woman and man,” Francis told the assembly Friday.

“Beyond all the differences, there are common and permanent traits that reveal the greatness and value of marriage and the family,” he said, while warning that family is sometimes lived out in an individualistic and private way “as is partly the case in the West.”

The human being is created in the image and likeness of God, who is love, Francis said, and as the “mutual love between man and woman” marriage “is a reflection of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves the human being, destined to be fruitful and to be fulfilled in the common work of the social order and the care of creation.”

The family is also the “place of acceptance,” he said, and the site of “the rehabilitation of the sick, the reception of migrants, and in general the social inclusion of those who are victims of marginalization.”

The pope called for family-friendly “social, economic and cultural policies” which include “policies that make it possible to harmonize family and work; tax policies that acknowledge family burdens and support the educational functions of families by adopting appropriate instruments of fiscal equity; policies that welcome life; and social, psychological and health services that focus on supporting couples and parental relationships.”

To rediscover the beauty of the family we must “remove from the mind’s eye the ‘cataract’ of ideologies that prevent us from seeing reality,” he said, which involves “the rediscovery of the correspondence between natural marriage and sacramental marriage.”

The separation between the two “risks abandoning the institution of the family to the tyranny of the artificial,” he added.

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