(CNSNews.com) – In his General Audience talk at St. Peter’s Square on March 18, Pope Francis criticized the low birth rates in Europe and emphasized that a society that seeks to exclude children is “a sad and gray society.”
“[C]hildren bring life, joy, hope, also trouble, but life is like this,” said the Pope, as translated by the Zenit news service. “They certainly also bring worries and sometimes problems.”
“However, it’s better to have a society with these worries and problems than a sad and grey society because it has remained without children,” he said. “And when we see that the level of births hardly reaches 1%, we can say that this society is grey because it has remained without children.”
The Pope said he wanted to focus on children as part of his ongoing teaching about the different roles in the family: mother, father, children, siblings and grandparents.
Children are “the great gift for humanity, but they are also greatly excluded,” said the Pope, adding that “a society can be judged by the way its children are treated.”
Pope Francis explained that on his recent trip to Asia he saw many children “full of life, of enthusiasm” but also many of whom “live in the world in conditions that are undignified.”
The Pope also emphasized how children are dependent upon their parents and that, throughout our lives, all people are more or less dependent on each other for guidance, assistance, love.
“The first thing that children remind us of is that all of us, in the first years of life, were totally dependent on the care and benevolence of others,” said Pope Francis. “And the Son of God did not spare himself this stage. It is the mystery we contemplate every year at Christmas.”
“The Manger is the icon that communicates this reality to us in the simplest and most direct way,” he said. “But it’s curious. God has no difficulty in making himself understood by children, and children don’t have problems in understanding God.”
Children “recall to us constantly the necessary condition to enter in the Kingdom of God: not to consider ourselves self-sufficient, but in need of help, of love and of forgiveness,” said the Pope. “And we are all in need of help, of love and of forgiveness. Everyone!”
According to Pew researchers, for most developed countries a woman over her lifetime needs to have an average of at least two children in order for a generation to replace itself.
In Italy, the birth rate has been declining for many years. Italy’s Minister of Health, Beatrice Lorenzin, said in February, “We are at the threshold where people who die are not being replaced by newborns. That means we are a dying country.”
"This situation has enormous implications for every sector: the economy, society, health, pensions, just to give a few examples,” she said.
Italy’s birth rate is at the level it was in 1861.
According to the Pew Research Center, the average woman in Italy has less than 1.5 children over her lifetime, less than the 2 children on average needed to replace the current generation.
Numerous European countries are below that replacement level, including the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Spain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria and Austria. The United States is right on the line with an average of 2.1 children, as is France.