VATICAN CITY, February 15, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Families are a witness to “faith, courage and optimism” when they welcome many children even amid today’s social environment, said Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday.

“Without children there is no future,” the pope observed in remarks directed towards members of the Italian National Association of Large Families, who attended the general audience this morning.

Italy, which traditionally is known for its large, boisterous families, has joined other Western countries in sliding into a precipitous demographic decline, and now has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. Currently on average there are around 1.4 children born per woman, far below the 2.1 rate that demographers say is necessary to maintain a population.

The pontiff said that he hopes “adequate social and legislative measures will continue to be promoted to support and protect larger families, who are a source of wealth and hope for the entire country.”

Members of the crowd cheered enthusiastically, holding babies and children aloft in the air, to which the pontiff replied with a smile and a wave.

Benedict invoked the intercession of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the patrons of Europe whose feast was celebrated the day before.

“May their witness also help you to be apostles of the Gospel, the leaven for authentic renewal in personal, family and social life”, he said, addressing the young and the sick.