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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 15:10 GMT
Pope urges Italians to have children
Pope John Paul II at the Italian parliament
The Pope's speech was his first to the Italian parliament
In the first ever speech to the Italian parliament by a head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II has called on Italians to have more children.


There is a need to guard against a vision of the continent which would only take into account its economic and political aspects

Pope John Paul II

He described Italy's declining birth rate as a crisis, and said politicians should take action to make parenthood easier, both socially and financially.

The speech also touched on the hostility between the Vatican and Rome in the last centuries, saying that this had long since given way to co-operation and mutual respect.

The Vatican was left with only a small fraction of its territory after the foundation of the Italian state in the 1860s and 1870s, and subsequent popes refused to recognise the new-born Italian state.

'Grave threat'

The elderly pontiff used the historic speech to dwell on themes dear to him, such as the Christian heritage of Europe and the need for solidarity in a globalised world.

Graphic showing birth rates across Europe
He also appealed to Italy for a measure of clemency for the inmates of Italy's overcrowded jails, asking for a reduction in their prisoners' sentences.

The papal speech was frequently interrupted by loud applause, although the visit was boycotted by some members of parliament who said it undermined the secular character of the Italian state.

In his comments on the central role of the family, he described the Italian birth rate - one of the lowest in the world - as "another grave threat" to their future.

"Above all, it encourages - indeed I would dare to say, forces - citizens to make a broad and responsible commitment to favour a clear-cut reversal of this tendency," he said.

'Viva il Papa!'

Making a foray into the current debate over the future of Europe, the Pope reiterated his appeal for "spiritual values" to be taken into account as the European Union takes in new members from the former Soviet bloc, including his native Poland.

"There is a need to guard against a vision of the continent which would only take into account its economic and political aspects," he said, "if lasting ability is to be given to the new unity of Europe."

While he struggled at times with pronunciation due to the tremors he suffers from Parkinson's Disease, the Pope nevertheless spoke for 45 minutes.

The applause and cries of "Viva il Papa!" climaxed with a standing ovation at the end.

The Pope calls Italy his second home, and was recently made an honorary citizen of Rome - but only in 1929 did Italy and the Vatican recognise each other as sovereign entities.

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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"The Pope touched on universal themes such as human rights"
See also:

22 Mar 01 | Europe
29 Jan 02 | Europe
23 Jan 02 | In Depth
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