Storks’ Fertility Illuminates Irony of Camino’s Abandoned Villages

HLI's Joseph Meaney trailblazing the Camino to raise funds for Seminarians for Life International
HLI’s Joseph Meaney trailblazing the Camino to raise funds for Seminarians for Life International

Following the ancient pilgrimage “Camino” to Santiago de Compostela, I was amazed at the number of storks, a traditional symbol of fertility. In fact, a common scene was storks nesting on the church towers in village after village. The flourishing storks contrast greatly with the evident decay — and sometimes total abandonment — of these human settlements. I saw more empty and collapsing homes than I could count.

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For decades Spain has suffered one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. The reproduction rate needed to maintain a stable population in developed countries is 2.1 percent, yet Spain’s average family has only 1.48 children.

Population scientists note that demographic collapse generally starts in the countryside since internal migration is usually rural to urban. People abandon their farms to go to the city in search of a better life. Spain is perilously close to the second stage of demographic collapse. Their population peaked in 2012 and has been falling since then.

This process was accelerated by their economic crisis, to which Spain’s critically low fertility certainly contributed. It is ironic that a fruit of having so few babies is unemployment, and in the case of Spain, the unemployment runs 23.7% — with even higher levels for youth.

People often delay or forgo marriage and childbearing for economic reasons. There is consequently less consumption and the spiral downward continues. Even immigrants refrain from emigrating since there are no jobs to be found.

What is the solution? Faith and fertility. Gloomy pessimism, which flourishes among modern neo-pagans, must be replaced by dynamic, hopeful, and fertile Christianity. This scenario already played out once at the end of the Western Roman Empire when Catholicism saved Europe. It can happen again.

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