Pope Francis said that families "are the solution" to a demographic crisis in Italy and urged people to help parents overcome economic hardship. Photo by Giuseppe Lami/EPA-EFE
May 12 (UPI) -- Pope Francis said on Friday that families "are the solution" to the demographic crisis in Europe and that pets should not replace children as family members.
Addressing the General State of Births meeting in Rome, alongside Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the pontiff urged attendees to provide more help for parents, and particularly mothers, in starting a family in the face of the rapidly rising cost of housing, food and childcare.
Italian births hit an all-time low of 393,000 in 2022 after shrinking for years, which Francis said contributed to a "feeling of precariousness" especially among young people.
"Indeed the birth of children is the main indicator of measuring hope of a people," Francis said. "If few are born, it means that there is little hope."
Francis said that creating a family has become a "titanic effort" in the face of today's social climate as couples struggle to find stable jobs, pay for expensive housing and the "almost insurmountable constraints" placed on young women forced to choose between career and motherhood.
"One does not overcome a crisis alone," the pope said. "Either we all get out of it or we don't get out of it and we do not emerge from the crisis the same. We will emerge better or worse. This is today's crisis."
He said not addressing the birth crisis head-on will lead to a "demographic winter," adding that the family "is not part of the problem, but part of its solution."
"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 said.
Francis admitted he was taken aback when a woman asked her recently to bless her dog, introducing the animal as "her baby."
"I lost my patience and told her off," Francis told the crowd to applause. "There are many children who are hungry, and you bring me a dog?"
It's not the first time Pope Francis expressed his dismay over young people choosing to raise pets over creating a family.
In January 2022, Francis told a general audience that those who adopt pets instead of children contribute to a loss of "humanity."