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The root of the decrease in birth rates: A deficit of faith, hope and love

on Saturday, 01 April 2006. Posted in Pope Benedict XVI

On April 27, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI addressed a message to the participants in the 12th plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which is being held in the Vatican from April 28 to May 2, on the theme: "Vanishing Youth? Solidarity with Children and Young People in an Age of Turbulence." Here are excerpts from the Holy Father's address:

While the statistics of population growth are indeed open to varying interpretations, there is general agreement that we are witnessing on a planetary level, and in the developed countries in particular, two significant and interconnected trends: on the one hand, an increase in life expectancy, and, on the other, a decrease in birth rates. As societies are growing older, many nations or groups of nations lack a sufficient number of young people to renew their population.

This situation is the result of multiple and complex causes — often of an economic, social and cultural character — which you have proposed to study. But its ultimate roots can be seen as moral and spiritual; they are linked to a disturbing deficit of faith, hope and, indeed, love. To bring children into the world calls for self-centred eros to be fulfilled in a creative agape rooted in generosity, and marked by trust and hope in the future. By its nature, love looks to the eternal (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 6). Perhaps the lack of such creative and forward-looking love is the reason why many couples today choose not to marry, why so many marriages fail, and why birth rates have significantly diminished.

It is children and young people who are often the first to experience the consequences of this eclipse of love and hope. Often, instead of feeling loved and cherished, they appear to be merely tolerated. In "an age of turbulence", they frequently lack adequate moral guidance from the adult world, to the serious detriment of their intellectual and spiritual development. Many children now grow up in a society which is forgetful of God and of the innate dignity of the human person made in God's image. In a world shaped by the accelerating processes of globalization, they are often exposed solely to materialistic visions of the universe, of life and human fulfillment.

Yet children and young people are by nature receptive, generous, idealistic and open to transcendence. They need above all else to be exposed to love and to develop in a healthy human ecology, where they can come to realize that they have not been cast into the world by chance, but through a gift that is part of God's loving plan. Parents, educators and community leaders, if they are to be faithful to their own calling, can never renounce their duty to set before children and young people the task of choosing a life project directed towards authentic happiness, one capable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, good and evil, justice and injustice, the real world and the world of "virtual reality".

Benedict XVI

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