Pope Francis told Italian bishops Monday that his greatest concern is Europe’s vocational crisis, with fewer and fewer young men and women entering the priesthood and consecrated life.
“How many seminaries, churches and monasteries and convents will be closed in the next few years due to the lack of vocations? God knows,” the pope told the general assembly of the Italian bishops’ conference (CEI).
“It is sad to see this land, which for many centuries has been fertile and generous in giving missionaries, nuns, and priests full of apostolic zeal, enter into vocational sterility together with the old continent without seeking effective remedies.”
Francis also laid out his analysis of the causes of this “hemorrhage of vocations,” emphasizing that it is “our paternity that is at stake” in declining numbers of new vocations. The causes stretch from Europe’s low birthrate to church scandals to a materialistic mentality among the young.
Europe’s vocational decline “is the poisoned fruit of the culture of the provisional, of relativism and of the dictatorship of money, which alienate young people from the consecrated life,” Francis said, along with “the tragic decrease of births, this ‘demographic winter’ as well as scandals and lukewarm testimony.”
I believe God seeks vocations, Francis said, “but we cannot find them!”
According to Vatican reports, the number of Catholic priests in Europe dropped by 2,502 between the years 2014 and 2015, the last year for which data is available. While the new priestly vocations have been growing in Africa and Asia, they have been in steady decline on the Old Continent.
The Italian Statistics Bureau (ISTAT) recently released demographic forecasts for the country that foresee a steadily declining population due to a birthrate well below replacement levels.
From 60.6 million in 2017, Italy’s population is expected to fall by more than ten percent over the next several decades to just 54.1 million in 2065, ISTAT stated in its May 2018 report. This drop will occur despite increased life expectancy, which is projected to grow by 5 years for both genders, reaching 86.1 years and 90.2 years, respectively for men and women (80.6 and 85 years in 2016), ISTAT said.
The fertility rate in Italy is currently 1.34 children per woman, significantly below the replacement level of roughly 2.1 children per woman. Globally, Italy is ranked 212 out of 223 countries for new live births as a percentage of the total population, with just 8.6 live births per 1000 citizens.
In his address to the Italian bishops Monday, Pope Francis also urged greater financial transparency and simpler lifestyles, in accord with the virtue of evangelical poverty.
“A believer cannot speak of poverty and live like a pharaoh,” he said, and it is “a counter-testimony to talk about poverty and lead a life of luxury.”
The pope also warned the prelates against “managing the Church’s goods as if they were personal goods,” noting that “one day we will have to give an accounting to the owner of the vineyard.”
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