Urges Italians to have more children:
His speech, interrupted about 20 times by applause, was anticipated for weeks by Italians and treated as an enormously symbolic event for this mostly Roman Catholic country.However, it was not without opposition: A handful of deputies said they wouldn't attend to underscore that Italy remains a lay country and a dozen or so gay activists protested at a nearby piazza.
The 82-year-old Polish-born pope covered most of the general topics he has addressed in his 24-year pontificate, including respect for the dignity of man, democracy, peace and justice.But his emphasis was on Italy and particularly what he called "the crisis of the birth rate." Italy has one of the lowest birth rates in the world 9.3 births per 1,000 inhabitants and one of the oldest populations.The United Nations has warned that Italy's economic future is at risk because its shrinking work force will be unable to support its aging population without an influx of migrant workers.
The pope called the situation "another grave threat that bears upon the future of this country, one which is already conditioning its life and its capacity for development.""Above all, it encourages indeed I would dare to say, forces citizens to make a broad and responsible commitment to favor a clear-cut reversal of this tendency," he said.
The pope also urged clemency for Italian prisoners."A gesture of clemency toward prisoners through a reduction of their sentences would be clear evidence of a sensitivity which would encourage them in their own personal rehabilitation for the sake of a constructive reinsertion into society," the pope said.
And he called on European leaders, who are drafting a new EU constitution, to recognize the role Christianity has played on the continent."There is a need to guard against a vision of the continent which would only take into account its economic and political aspects," and not its religious ones, the pope said.