Have the courage to have children despite climate change and wars, Pope Francis says

The pontiff asks nations to help women juggle motherhood and work, create job security for young people and help couples buy homes.

(Gregorio Borgia |AP) Pope Francis caresses a child during trip to Tokyo in 2019. The Catholic leader is urging couples to have children despite worries in the world.

Vatican City • Amid plummeting birthrates in many countries around the world, Pope Francis urged young people to “go against the current” and have children, during his speech at a conference on natality near the Vatican on Friday.

Francis entered the hall on Via della Conciliazione near the Vatican in his wheelchair while hundreds of young people, couples and children greeted him with a standing ovation at the meeting of the States General on Natality.

Friday marked the fourth year that the pope has attended the meeting, which gathers politicians, journalists, intellectuals and entrepreneurs to address the problems and propose possible solutions for declining birthrates.

“I know that for many of you, the future may see unsettling, and that between falling birthrates, wars, pandemics and climate change it’s not easy to keep hope alive,” Francis said, “but don’t give up, have faith, because tomorrow is not something inevitable: We build it together, and this together we find first and foremost with the Lord.”

[President Dallin Oaks and Relief Society General President Camille Johnson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also have expressed worries about declining birthrates.]

Francis encouraged young people to not “follow a script written by others. Let’s row to turn the tide, even at the cost of going against the current.”

The pope lamented theories that insist the human population should be kept under a certain bar to avoid economic, environmental and health crises.

“I was always amazed by how these views, which are outdated and superseded, refer to human beings as if they were problems. But human life is not a problem, it’s a gift,” Francis said. “No, the problem with our world is not children being born. It’s selfishness, consumerism, individualism, which render people complacent, alone and unhappy.”

Fertility rates in the U.S. have been declining steadily for decades, with a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reporting the lowest birthrate in over a century in 2023.

In the European Union, the population is shrinking at an even higher rate, with Italy, Spain and Malta failing to reach the replacement rate. In his speech, the pope noted the average age in Italy is currently 47 and that the country is aging rapidly.

“The Old Continent is becoming more and more an aging, tired and resigned continent,” Francis said, “so taken with exorcizing loneliness and distress that it no longer knows how to enjoy the true beauty of life.”

Francis laid out his concerns for countries with low birthrates, which he said signify a lack of desire for the future. For the pontiff, this reflects an overarching culture that regards money as the highest goal. He lamented that investments in the arms trade and in contraceptives are among the most profitable today.

“The former destroy life, the latter impede life,” Francis said. “What future awaits us?”

Speaking in the hall filled with youths, the pope made his appeals especially to the younger generations. While acknowledging that the reasons behind declining birthrates are complex, he said forward-thinking policies are necessary to address the underlying issues.

The pope urged governments to implement family-centered policies such as helping mothers negotiate work and childbirth without feeling like they have to choose between the two, helping young people escape job insecurity or aiding young couples in buying a house.

The 87-year-old pontiff took the opportunity to stress the importance of cementing family relationships with all generations, underlining the crucial role of the elderly, and especially grandparents, in building and strengthening the family.