VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Italy’s declining birthrate is alarming, and groups that assist Italian families must do more both in terms of lobbying and witnessing to the joy of family life, Pope Francis said.
“We are living in a serious demographic winter, and we must react to it with all our force, with our work, with our ideas,” the pope said Dec. 2 as he welcomed members of the Italian Forum of Family Associations to the Vatican.
“My secretary told me the other day that, walking through St. Peter’s Square, he saw a woman with a stroller, and he wanted to see the baby, but there was a puppy inside,” the pope said. “It’s a symbol. That’s why I’m telling you. We need children.”
ISTAT, the Italian government’s statistics office, reported in April that the country’s birthrate had hit an all-time low, that there were seven births for every 12 deaths and that migration, although increasing after the worst years of the COVID-19 pandemic, was not making up for the population loss. It noted that “2006 was the last time in which there was a substantial balance between births and deaths.”
The first task of Catholic family associations, he said, is to witness to the “joy of being a family.”
Such a witness does not involve pretending everything is always wonderful, he said. “We all know that family life is made up of moments that are happy and others that are sad, of periods of serenity and others that are most difficult, sometimes really hard.”
“But there is a joy that passes through all those situations, because it is on a deeper level and comes precisely from being a family and, with a deep sense of gratitude, perceiving that as a gift” from God and from one’s parents and grandparents and children and grandchildren.
“I repeat, I am not talking about an ‘ideal’ family, a standard model to apply in order to be happy,” the pope said. “Every family has its journey and its story, just like every person does.”
In lobbying for family-friendly services and government policies, the associations should not “start from a particular ideology, but on the basis of the doctrine and the social practice of the church,” he said.
And, the pope said, the method must be one of dialogue, not working for partisan interests, but for the common good.
Open to life, but also to the needs of the society around them, the families should make “a political commitment in the widest and highest sense as a contribution to the common good of the country, so that families are not exploited and then penalized, but promoted and supported,” he said.
“We are in an awful demographic winter, horrible,” the pope said. Politicians talk about it a lot, but it is time “to pass from words to facts and from palliative measures to a real and effective therapy.”
The forum, he added, should not follow the debates simply to criticize one party or another, but to offer their experience and constructive suggestions.