Pope Francis to open event on Italy’s demographic decline

By Courtney Mares for CNA

Pope Francis baptizes a child in the Sistine Chapel on Jan. 12, 2020. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 3, 2021 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Francis will open an event on Italy’s demographic winter as the country’s birth rate has hit a historic low.

Pope Francis will give the opening remarks for the General States of Birth initiative on May 14 at the Auditorium della Conciliazione, just outside the walls of Vatican City State.

The mostly online meetings organized by the Forum of Family Associations seek to address the 50 years of steady decline in births across Europe, and especially in Italy, and what can be done to reverse it.

Italy’s national statistics institute predicts that the country will see a significant decline in births in the years immediately following the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, births in Italy already hit a historic low since Italian unification in 1861.

Pope Francis has described this as the dramatic result of a “disregard for families.” Europe’s low birth rate “is a sign of societies that struggle to face the challenges of the present, and thus become ever more fearful of the future, with the result that they close in on themselves,” the pope said in 2018.

That year, Italy’s birth rate was 1.29 children per woman — just ahead of Malta and Spain’s rates of 1.23 and 1.26 respectively for the lowest rate in Europe.

The General States of Birth initiative will feature Italian government ministers, company executives, journalists, actors, and athletes who will give talks on the family, including Elena Bonetti, Italy’s family minister.

Gian Carlo Blangiardo, the president of Italy’s national statistics institute Istat, will also present previously unpublished data and projections on the country’s birth rate in the coming decades.

Nations across Europe and East Asia have faced low birth rates for decades. South Korea, Japan, Italy, Spain, Greece, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, and Portugal were among the countries with the lowest birth rates in 2019, according to the World Bank.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that the U.S. birth rate hit a record low in 2019, and real-time data from certain states shows that the national figure may have fallen even further in 2020.

Pope Francis called in February for “a new springtime” to end Italy’s demographic winter.

“Our society must be helped to heal from all attacks on life, so that it may be protected in all of its stages,” the pope said in an Angelus address Feb. 7, 2021.

“And allow me to add one of my concerns: the Italian demographic winter. In Italy, births have decreased and the future is in danger. Let us take up this concern and seek to ensure that this demographic winter ends and a new springtime of boys and girls thrives.”

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