Pope says Italy's plunging birthrate is a 'tragedy'

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FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Eve Holy Mass, at the Vatican
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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis bemoaned Italy's plunging birthrate on Sunday, warning that the decline represented a threat to the future of the country.

Births in Italy last year hit their lowest level since the unification of the nation in 1861, the national statistics office said this month, with the figure falling for a 12th consecutive year.

"The demographic winter is a real worry, at least here in Italy," the pope said in his weekly address in front of St. Peter's Basilica.

"It seems that a lot of people have lost the wish to have children. Lots of couples prefer to remain childless or to have one child only. ... It's a tragedy ... which runs counter to our families, our country and our future."

There were 404,892 births in Italy last year, the ISTAT statistics office said, down 15,192 from 2019. There were 746,146 deaths in 2020 as the population fell to 59.3 million.

ISTAT said the slump in births had continued this year, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be a factor in the decline.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by David Goodman)

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