Rome, Nov. 14 (Reuters): Pope John Paul, in a historic speech to the Italian parliament, today urged Italians to have more babies and called on world religions to fight international terrorism.
It was the first time a Pope has addressed Italy’s parliament and was an occasion laden with historical meaning for the Vatican’s relations with Italy.
In his address to a joint session, the 82-year-old Pope spoke of burning problems facing the country, much of which was ruled by his predecessors until Italy's unification in 1870.
Speaking in a strong voice, he urged Italians to have more children to turn around one of the world's lowest birth rates.
He mentioned the plight of the unemployed, decried what he saw as moral decay fed by the media, and called for reductions of sentences to deal with a population explosion in prisons.
Addressing the international situation, he said that “deplorable inequalities” continued to exist and urged all the world’s religions to fight what he called the “new and fearful dimension” of international terrorism.
He appealed to Europe to cherish its Christian roots as it embarks on enlargement that will include his own country Poland, thus entering a growing controversy about whether to refer to religion and God in the new European Union constitution. Italian media covered the event almost as if it were a trip to the moon, with newspapers devoting many pages and television tearing up its normal programming to show everything live.
Until the mid-19th century, the Catholic Church ruled a large swathe of central Italy. The Papal States were lost in 1860 and the papacy had to give up Rome 10 years later when troops of King Victor Emmanuel moved into the capital.
Popes considered themselves “prisoners of the Vatican” until 1929 when the 108 acres of Vatican City, the only territory that remained, became a sovereign city-state. The fact that more than 130 years had to pass before a pope could address parliament underlined the fact that many Italians still view the Church’s influence on their lives with suspicion.