Pope Francis joined Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at a pro-family event, urging Italians to prioritize having children.
Italy’s birth rate has collapsed in recent years with just 392,598 births recorded in 2022. The national fertility rate is 1.24 children per woman, which is below replacement levels.
“Indeed, the birth of children is the main indicator for measuring the hope of a people,” Francis told an annual gathering of pro-family organizations in Rome on May 12. “If few are born, it means that there is little hope.”
“Let us not resign ourselves to sterile dullness and pessimism,” said the pope. “Let us not believe that history is already marked, that nothing can be done to reverse the trend.”
“We cannot passively accept that so many young people struggle to realize their family dream and are forced to lower the bar of desire, settling for mediocre substitutes: making money, aiming for a career, traveling, jealously guarding leisure time,” Francis continued.
Francis called for legislative action to reverse the “demographic winter.” He suggested more resources should be offered to help couples begin and grow their families in order to “plant the future” with hope.
The pope recounted an audience he had at the Vatican two weeks earlier where a woman asked that he bless her “baby”— which turned out to be a small dog the woman was carrying in her handbag.
“I lost my patience and upbraided her, saying madam, so many children are hungry and you bring me a little dog,” he said at the conference.
Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in the world, attributed in part to the challenges that deter women from having children. This includes the expense of child care, low salaries, high cost of living and a cultural tradition of women becoming the primary caregiver to elderly parents.
“Italy’s overall population has been falling steadily since 2014, with a cumulative loss since then of more than 1.36 million people, equivalent to the residents of Milan, the country’s second biggest city,” reported Fox News in April. “[National statistics bureau ISTAT] predicted in September that Italy could lose almost a fifth of its residents, with the population set to decline, under a baseline scenario, to 54.2 million in 2050 and 47.7 million in 2070.”
Meloni, a right-wing politician, took office last year and has consistently supported pro-family policies. Her party, the Brothers of Italy, is known for its motto “God, family, fatherland.”
Meloni’s government has supported a nationwide effort to have 500,000 live births in Italy through 2033. According to ABC News, demographers say that is the necessary rate “to prevent the economy from collapsing by growing the wage-earning population as retirees draw on their pensions.”
“We want a nation where it is no longer scandalous to say that — whatever the legitimate, free choices, inclinations of each person — we are all born of a man or a woman,” said Meloni at the conference to an applauding crowd, per AP News. “Where it is not taboo to say that motherhood is not for sale, that wombs are not for rent and children are not over-the-counter products that you can choose on the shelf as if you were in the supermarket and maybe return if then the product does not match what you expect.”
Pope Francis upset some people when he said couples who choose not to have children are selfish in January of 2022. He said that the “denial of fatherhood and motherhood” ultimately “diminishes us, it takes away our humanity.”
In 2014, Francis said that some couples’ decision to prioritize having pets over starting a family is a “sign of cultural degeneration.”
“That’s because an emotional relationship with animals is easier, more programmable,” he said at the time. “Having a child is something complex.”