Pope Francis Decries ‘Demographic Winter’ of Nations That Have ‘Chosen Sterility’

In his homily at Tuesday morning Mass, Pope Francis reflected on the blessing of fertility and the dangers of going down the path of self-imposed barrenness as some modern nations have done.

The Pope reminded his congregation in the chapel at his Saint Marta residence in the Vatican that the very first commandment God gives to man is to “be fruitful and multiply.” Fruitfulness in the Bible is always a blessing, he continued, because “where there is God, there is fruitfulness.”

In the ancient world, sterility was seen as a curse and fecundity as a blessing, Francis noted. And yet some countries today “have chosen the path of sterility and suffer from that grave disease that is a demographic winter.”

A Christian’s life must always be a fruitful and his heart always open “to receive and give life,” Francis said.

The Pope took inspiration from the biblical readings of the day, both of which—from the book of Judges and the Gospel of Luke—spoke of sterile women, the mother of Samson and Elizabeth, the cousin of the Virgin Mary, who had lost the hope of having them because of old age. “Infertility was a disgrace; not being able to bear children, not being able to have descendants,” he said.

In the Bible, there are so many women affected by this condition and the whole history of Israel is punctuated by such figures, he added, “starting with Sarah, the wife of our father Abraham.”

In the modern world, couples often refrain from having children for fear of undermining their own “well-being,” Francis said, and the result is “countries empty of children. And this is not a blessing,” he said.

“Fruitfulness is always a blessing of God,” whether it is material or spiritual, because all are called to give life in some way, the pontiff added. “We too, priests and religious men and women, do not get married, but woe to us if we are not fruitful with good works, if we do not bring fruitfulness to the people of God. Fruitfulness is a sign of God,” he said.

On the contrary, the Pope declared, “the devil wants infertility; he wants each one of us not to live to give life to others, whether physical and spiritual, but for himself.”

Referring to the empty manger scene prepared for Christmas, Francis stated: “Here there is an empty cradle. We can look at it. It can be a symbol of hope, because the Child will come, or it can be a museum piece, empty of all life.”

The Pope’s words come in the wake of a recent report published by Demographic Intelligence, which declares that the birthrate in the U.S. is expected to fall to a 30-year low of 1.77 children per woman in 2017, well below the replacement value of roughly 2.1.

Despite a thriving economy and higher employment among young adults, births are down “markedly” in 2017, the report states. Total U.S. births are likely to fall to about 3.84 million in 2017, which represents a drop of some 2.8 percent from the 3.95 million births in 2016.

The Forecast attributes the drop in births chiefly to fewer births to younger women in their teens and 20s, which in turn is driven by a decline in sexual relations among young adults generally.

Last January, Bloomberg reported that the population of the United States is at the lowest rate of growth since the Great Depression, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

During 2016, the population grew at a rate of just 0.7 percent, the lowest rate of growth since the Great Depression years of 1936 and 1937. Declines in the birthrate and the slowing pace of immigration are to blame, Bloomberg said.