Pope Francis urged Europeans on Friday to reflect on what they treasure, and whether they consider children to be the valuable gift they are.
Speaking at “The General State of the Birth Rate” event in Rome May 14, he said, “there is a phrase from the Gospel that can help anyone, even those who do not believe, to guide their choices.”
“Jesus says: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.’”
“Where is our treasure, the treasure of our society?” he asked. “In children or finances? What draws us, the family or revenue?”
The live-streamed event, held in the Conciliazione Auditorium, close to the Vatican, included presentations from company executives, journalists, actors, athletes, and Italian political leaders, including Prime Minister Mario Draghi, reflecting on the problem of Italy’s birth rate, which is one of the lowest in Europe at 1.24.
The country faces a demographic crisis, as experts predict that the already low European fertility rate will be further affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which has already hit the Italian economy especially hard.
In his address, Pope Francis said that “if families are not at the center of the present, there will be no future; but if families restart, everything restarts.”
He emphasized that the first gift every person has received is the gift of life.
“It is a ‘first’ that in the course of life we forget, always intent on looking at the future, at what we can do and have,” he said.
“A child is the greatest gift for everyone, and comes before all else,” the pope reflected. “This word is linked to children, to every child: first. As a child is expected and loved before it is born, so we must put children first if we want to see the light again after the long winter.”
Societies, especially the more affluent and consumeristic have forgotten the primacy of this gift, Francis said: “In fact, we see that where there are more things, there is often more indifference and less solidarity, more closure, less generosity.”
“Let us help each other, dear friends, to regain the courage to give, the courage to choose life,” he urged.
The pope spoke about the importance of children for both sustainability and solidarity.
“We will not be able to feed production and protect the environment if we are not attentive to families and children,” he said.
Noting the “explosion of births” during the reconstruction periods following World War I and World War II, he said that today too we find ourselves in a period of “restarting” after the coronavirus pandemic.
“We cannot follow short-sighted models of growth, as if only some hasty adjustments were needed to prepare for tomorrow,” he argued. “No, the tragic number of births and the appalling numbers of the pandemic call for change and responsibility.”
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He encouraged people to instill in the young a desire to pursue their dreams, to sacrifice themselves for others, and to do good in the world.
Sometimes, he said, the message that is transmitted is that “fulfillment means making money and success, while children seem almost a diversion, which must not hinder their personal aspirations.”
“This mentality is gangrene for society and makes the future unsustainable,” he underlined.
Pope Francis also urged companies not to exploit their employees with unsustainable work conditions and hours, and to ensure they receive a fair amount of the revenue, as a contribution “to a priceless development, that of families.”