Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

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Italian birth rate continues to sink and drag down Italian “life satisfaction”

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, October 23, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The latest birth rate record, released last week by the Italian government’s statistical agency, Istat, has shown that in the first four months of 2013, 8,000 fewer children were born in Italy than in the same period of the previous year. With a total fertility rate standing at about 1.41 children born per woman, Italy’s birth rate is ranked 203rd out of 224 countries of the world.

As of this year too, Italian deaths have outstripped births, with 10.01 deaths per 1,000 population and 8.94 births per 1,000. And the gap is widening. The numbers for 2012 showed about 12,000 fewer births than the previous year and about 19,000 more deaths than in 2011.

Moreover, Italians are increasingly reporting that, despite their nation’s reputation for natural beauty, good food and an easy-going lifestyle, they are not happy. According to a survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD Better Life Index, asked to rate their satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Italians placed their own happiness at about 5.8, lower than the OECD average of 6.6.

While some secular pundits are pointing the finger at the economic crisis, Christian observers have warned that the collapse in the birth rate, and its accompanying social and psychological malaise, have nothing to do with either the post-war economic booms or the current recession. Indeed, the drop in fertility has been a feature of Italian life for four decades, following a post-war population and economic boom. The country legalised contraception, divorce and abortion in rapid succession in the 1970s.

Riccardo Cascioli commented on the statistics, writing in the Christian opinion website La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, that the loss of children is a consequence of Italy’s loss of its religious identity.

“Actually you stop bringing children into the world not for lack of money but out of a lack of confidence in the future, and it is no coincidence that the collapse of births in Italy have accompanied the rapid process of secularization, which from a social point of view and from the legislature, resulted in the spread of contraception, the introduction of divorce and abortion with all that this implies.”

While the country is still identified strongly with Catholicism, with about 80 per cent of the population being at least nominally Christian, weekly attendance at Mass has never been lower. An on-the-ground survey in the archdiocese of Milan in 2007 showed that the commonly quoted statistic of 30 per cent was wildly over-optimistic. On the spot surveys showed that only about 15 per cent said they had been to Mass on all of the previous four Sundays.

After a trend of growth in both population and the economy following World War II, the Italian population leveled out and remained essentially unchanged between 1981 and 2001. With increasing immigration, the population again started showing an increase in the beginning of the 2000s.

As of January 2011, Italy’s total population was 60,626,442 inhabitants. The population has grown in the last year, at a rate of about 0.5 per cent. As with most developed nations, however, the only demographic factor keeping Italy’s population from actually shrinking, is immigration. According to 2012 statistics, about 4.3 million or about 7.4 percent of the population are foreign born, up from 6.8 the previous year.

Also with the slow birth rate has come an increase in the average age, with people over 65 now accounting for one fifth of the population. Italian demographer Giancarlo Baliga said last year that by 2041 “The age group most represented in the structure of the Italians will become the 70s.”

With the fertility rate standing at one of the lowest in the world, can be paired the median female age of 45.3 years, a combination from which, demographers say, its is all but impossible to recover. This can be compared with a country of similar population size, the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a median female age of 17.9 years and a total fertility rate of 4.95 children born per woman.

Italy’s population decline is not being slowed even by its immensely superior medical care and consequently longer life expectancy. With only 3.33 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, Italy has one of the lowest rates of infant mortality in the world, compared with the Congo’s 74.87 deaths per 1,000 live births. The Italian average overall life expectancy is 81.95 years compared with the Congo’s 56.14 years.

Commenting on the latest Istat figures and the loss of social confidence, Ernesto Galli della Loggia wrote in Corriere della Sera, “This is the Italy of today. A country whose so-called civil society is immersed in modernity, with 161 phones for every hundred inhabitants, but a population who do not read books… and who hold the European record for hours spent each day in front of the television (just under 4 hours each, according to statistics).”

“All these things together are our crisis. And all these things feed discouragement that gains more ground, the feeling of mistrust that resonates today in countless conversations, in the most minute daily commentaries and between different stakeholders. The idea grows increasingly insistent that for Italy, there is no more hope. Increasingly a singular notion is spreading: that we have arrived at the end of a race that began a long time ago between a thousand hopes, but which now is ending in nothing.”

Galli della Loggia blamed political corruption and the economic crisis, saying that the low fertility rate is a consequence of people having less money and less job security. But Riccardo Cascioli countered that while this may seem like “common sense,” its “reasoning is contradicted by reality”.

The trend to lower birth rates, Cascioli said, has been a feature of Italian life for four decades, “when the fertility rate of Italian women fell well below the European average, which is currently around 1.5 children per woman”.

“In other words, the collapse of births is prior to the economic crisis and, in fact, is a cause of the latter, indeed the root cause.”

“We must recognize,” Cascioli wrote, “that this is a crisis of identity for all Italian people, who have long stopped believing in the future and in life, and who therefore are condemned to a slow extinction unless a new factor intervenes.”


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Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

African researchers warn early sexual activity increases risk of cancers

Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus
By Thaddeus Baklinski

A report on rising cancer rates in Africa delivered at a conference in Namibia last week warned that oral contraceptives and engaging in sexual activity from a young age lead to an increased risk of breast and reproductive system cancers.

Researchers presented the "2014 Integrated Africa Cancer Fact Sheet & Summary Score Card" during the 8th Stop Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer in Africa (SCCA) conference, held in Windhoek, Namibia from July 20 to 22, noted that cancer is a growing health problem in many developing countries and that breast and cervical cancer are the most common forms affecting African women.

The report said that sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) play a major role in reproductive system cancers and that young girls who engage in sexual activity risk getting, among other STDs, the human papilloma virus (HPV), some strains of which are linked to cervical cancer.

The report said although HPV infections are common in healthy women, they are usually fought off by the body’s immune system, with no discernible symptoms or health consequences.

The Cancer Association of South Africa points out that of the scores of HPV types, 14 of the more than 40 sexually transmitted varieties are considered "high risk" for causing serious illness, while two, HPV-16 and HPV-18, are linked to cervical cancer.

“Long-term use of oral contraceptives is also associated with increased risk [of cancer], and women living with HIV-AIDS are at increased risk of cervical cancer,” the report said.

Dr. Thandeka Mazibuko, a South African oncologist, told the conference attendees that when an 18-year-old is diagnosed with cervical cancer, “this means sex is an important activity in her life and she indulged from a young age.”

Mazibuko said the standard treatment for cancer of the cervix is seven weeks of radiation therapy.

“After the treatment they cannot have sex with their husbands or partners. They cannot bear children because everything has been closed up. Some may still have the womb but radiation makes them infertile,” Mazibuko said, according to a report in The Namibian.

Statistics from the Cancer Association of Namibia show that cases of cervical cancer have risen from 129 in 2005 to 266 in 2012.

The SCCA Conference theme was, "Moving forward to end Cervical Cancer by 2030: Universal Access to Cervical Cancer Prevention."

In his keynote address, host and Namibian President Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba urged African countries to help each other to expand and modernize health care delivery in the continent.

"Within the context of the post-2015 Development Agenda and sustainable development goals, the provision of adequate health care to African women and children must be re-emphasized," said the president, according to AllAfrica.

The Namibian leader urged mothers to breastfeed their children for at least six months as a measure to prevent breast cancer.


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Allow ‘lethal injection’ for poor to save on palliative care: Lithuanian health minister

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By Hilary White

Euthanasia is a solution for terminally ill poor people who cannot afford palliative care and who do not want to “see their families agonize” over their suffering, Lithuania’s health minister said last week.

In an interview on national television, Minister Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė added that the Belgian law on child euthanasia ought to be “taken into account” as well. 

Šalaševičiūtė told TV3 News that Lithuania, a country whose population is 77 percent Catholic, is not a welfare state and cannot guarantee quality palliative care for all those in need of it. The solution, therefore, would be “lethal injection.”

“It is time to think through euthanasia in these patients and allow them to make a decision: to live or die,” she said.

Direct euthanasia remains illegal in the Balkan state, but activists tried to bring it to the table in 2012. A motion to drop the planned bill was passed in the Parliament in March that year in a vote of 75 to 14. Since then the country has undergone a change in government in which the far-left Social Democrats have formed the largest voting bloc.

Šalaševičiūtė is a member of Parliament for the Social Democrats, the party originally established in the late 19th century – re-formed in the late 1980s – from Marxist principles and now affiliated with the international Party of European Socialists and Socialist International.

Fr. Andrius Narbekovas, a prominent priest, lecturer, physician, bioethicist, and member of the government’s bioethics committee, called the suggestion “satanic,” according to Delfi.lt. He issued a statement saying it is the purpose of the Ministry of Health to “protect the health and life, instead of looking for ways to take away life.”

“We understand that people who are sick are in need of funds. But a society that declares itself democratic, should very clearly understand that we have to take care of the sick, not kill them,” he said.


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Islamists in Mosul mark Christian homes with an Arabic "N" for Nazarene.
Gualberto Garcia Jones, J.D.

We must open wide our doors to Iraq’s Christians

Gualberto Garcia Jones, J.D.
By Gualberto Garcia Jones J.D.

On July 18, the largest Christian community in Iraq, the Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, were given a grotesque ultimatum: leave your ancestral home, convert to Islam, or die.

All but forgotten by the 1.2 billion Catholics of the world, these last Christians who still speak Jesus’ native tongue of Aramaic and live in the land of Abraham and Jonah are being wiped out before our very eyes.

As a way of issuing a thinly-veiled threat, reminiscent of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Arabic letter “N” (for Nazarean) has been painted on the outside of the homes of all known Christians in Mosul.

These threats, issued by the fanatical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) known for its bloodthirsty rampage of executions, have been taken very seriously by the several hundred thousand Christians in Mosul who have left with little more than the clothes they were wearing. 

At least most of these Christians were able to flee and find temporary protection among the Kurds in their semi-autonomous region.  However the Kurds do not have the resources to defend or shelter the Chaldean Christians for much longer.

On Monday, during an interview on Fox News, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, who recently joined with 54 other members of the House of Representatives in a letter to President Obama asking him to act to protect these communities, stated that while Iraqi President Maliki had sent military flights to Mosul to evacuate Shiite Muslims, the US has done nothing to protect the Chaldean Christians.  Rep. Wolf also stated emphatically that President Obama has done “almost nothing” about the genocide taking place.

The silence from the White House is deafening.  But the lack of leadership from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America has been shocking as well.

Nevertheless, the plight of these Iraqi Christians is beginning to be taken seriously.   This is due in large part to the heroic efforts of local Iraqi religious leaders like Chaldean Patriarch Sako, who has gone on a whirlwind tour of the world to alert us all of the plight of these Iraqi Christians.  In a statement demonstrating his character, he told the Christians of Iraq last week, “We are your shepherds, and with our full responsibility towards you we will stay with you to the end, will not leave you, whatever the sacrifices.”

Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was launched there were approximately 1.5 to 2 million Christians living in Iraq.  Today, there are believed to be less than 200,000.  The numbers speak for themselves.

Now that the world is beginning to be aware of the genocide in Northern Iraq, many of us ask ourselves: what can we do?  As citizens and as Christians blessed to live in nations with relative peace and security, what can we do?

The answer is quite simple and unexpected.  Demand that our government and church pull its head out of the sand and follow France. Yes, France.  

Yesterday, in a heroic gesture of Christian solidarity that would make Joan of Arc proud, the government of France opened wide its doors to the persecuted Iraqi Christians.  

”France is outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness," Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, and Bernard Cazeneuve, France's interior minister, said in a joint statement on Monday.

"The ultimatum given to these communities in Mosul by ISIS is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat that jihadist groups in Iraq, but also in Syria and elsewhere, pose to these populations that are historically an integral part of this region," they added. "We are ready, if they wish, to facilitate their asylum on our soil.  We are in constant contact with local and national authorities to ensure everything is done to protect them.”

The French statement drives home three crucial elements that every government, especially the United States, should communicate immediately:

  1. Recognize the genocide and name the perpetrators and victims.

  2. Officially condemn what is happening in the strongest terms.

  3. Offer a solution that includes cooperation with local authorities but which leads by making solid commitments such as offering asylum or other forms of protection.

With regard to the Church, we should look to the Chaldean Patriarch and the Iraqi bishops who shared their expectations explicitly in an open letter to “all people of conscience in Iraq and around the world” to take “practical actions to assure our people, not merely expressions of condemnation.”  Noticeably, the last section of the letter from the Iraqi bishops, before a final prayer to God, is an expression of thanks to the Kurdish government, which has welcomed them not just with “expressions” of goodwill but, like France, with a sacrificial hospitality.

On Friday, July 25, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops did issue a statement, but unfortunately it lacked much in terms of leadership or solutions.  We should encourage our bishops to do better than that, be bolder and stronger for our persecuted brothers and sisters, name names and offer concrete sacrificial aid. In a word, be more like the French.

In 1553, Rome welcomed the Chaldean church into the fold of the Catholic Church.  Nearly 500 years later, Catholic Americans must find ways to welcome these persecuted people into our country, into our churches, and into our own homes if need be.

I say, I am with you St. Joan of Arc.   I am with you, France.  I am with you, Chaldeans!

Gualberto Garcia Jones is the Executive Director of the International Human Rights Group, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, that seeks to advance the fundamental rights to life, the natural family, and religious liberty through international law and international relations. 


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