Europe future bleak without God, more children: Pope

Mariazell, Austria - Pope Benedict, leading a rain-drenched mass in the Austrian mountains, said on Saturday that Europe's future would be bleak without more children and a return to trust in God and traditional values.

Some 30,000 wet and cold people turned out to see the Pope at this shrine to the Virgin Mary some 90 km (55 miles) southwest of Vienna on the second day of his visit to Austria.

Cardinals and bishops wore clear plastic raingear over their vestments as they braved unseasonable cold and volunteers handed out blankets to the elderly during the outdoor mass.

Low clouds on the snow-capped mountains forced the Pope to travel from Vienna overland instead of by helicopter for the centrepiece of his Austrian visit, the 850th anniversary of the shrine's founding.

"I wanted to take part and it's important that the community gathers as there are only few of us left," said Adolf Tenk, a man in his 60s who braved the cold weather with his wife.

Benedict, who appeared to be struggling with a hoarse voice, wove his sermon around the theme of revitalizing Christian identity in a modern Europe marked by diminishing Church participation, low birthrates and rampant consumerism.

"Europe has become child-poor," he said. "We want everything for ourselves and place little trust in the future."

It was the second time in as many days that the Pope decried Europe's declining birth rates. On Friday he condemned abortion, rejecting the concept that it could be considered a human right, and urged politicians enact legislation to help new families.

The average birth rate in the European Union is down to about 1.5 children per woman, raising fears that an ageing population will not be able to finance pensions systems.

Some European countries have adopted, or plan to, incentives to encourage couples to have children, to try to reverse trends where couples have fewer children and begin families later. Experts say high housing prices are partly to blame.

For Europe, a faith in the future had to be linked to faith in God and a return to traditional values, the Pope said.

"Where God is, there is the future," he told the shivering crowd on the grounds of the shrine. He urged his listeners to say 'yes' to love and "responsible life."

Last March, Benedict criticized the European Union for excluding a mention of God and Christian roots in declarations on its 50th anniversary, saying the continent was committing a form of "apostasy of itself" by excluding God.