Pope Francis told Bulgaria’s leaders on Sunday that the country shares in Europe’s “demographic winter” that reflects a lack of confidence in the future.
“Bulgaria faces the effects of the emigration in recent decades of over two million of her citizens in search of new opportunities for employment,” the pope said during the first day of his apostolic visit to the Balkan nation.
“At the same time, Bulgaria – like so many other countries of Europe – must deal with what can only be called a new winter: the demographic winter that has descended like a curtain of ice on a large part of Europe, the consequence of a diminished confidence in the future,” he lamented.
“The fall in the birth rate, combined with the intense flow of emigration, has led to the depopulation and abandonment of many villages and cities,” the pontiff continued.
The pope encouraged the country’s leaders to continue fighting the drain of mass emigration and to offer generous passage to migrants who wish to cross its borders en route to Western Europe.
“Bulgaria confronts the phenomenon of those seeking to cross its borders in order to flee wars, conflicts or dire poverty, in the attempt to reach the wealthiest areas of Europe, there to find new opportunities in life or simply a safe refuge,” Francis remarked.
While recognizing Bulgaria’s ongoing efforts “to ensure that young people, in particular, not be constrained to emigrate,” he went on to “encourage you to persevere on this path, to strive to create conditions that lead young people to invest their youthful energies and plan their future, as individuals and families, knowing that in their homeland they can have the possibility of leading a dignified life.”
“To all Bulgarians, who are familiar with the drama of emigration, I respectfully suggest that you not close your eyes, your hearts or your hands – in accordance with your best tradition – to those who knock at your door,” he said.
The pope has often remarked on Europe’s declining population, comparing her to an infertile grandmother who no longer bears children.
Europe, the Pope told the European Parliament in 2014, 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,” he said.
The “great ideas which once inspired Europe,” he said, seem to have been replaced “by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.”
The European birthrate has plummeted in part because Europeans are overly focused on their personal well-being, the pope said in an interview the following year.
“I heard it in my own family, from my Italian cousins here, years ago: ‘No, no kids, we prefer to go on vacation or buy a villa, or this or that.’ And then, the elderly are left all alone,” he said.
“Europe has not yet died,” he said. “It is half grandmother, but can return to being a mother.”
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