Pope John Paul II called Saturday on Western nations to reverse their falling birthrates, a phenomenom he described as a "menance."

The Polish pontiff, visiting a north-central Italian city that has lost almost 5 percent of its population in the past quarter-century, described the declining birthrate of the industrialized West as "worrying."John Paul called the decline in births "a menace for all of the rich West."

"Faith feeds optimism, a sentiment which is growing scarce in the Western world," John Paul said. "Society is getting older, and there are few babies being born.

"How can there be hope for a better future without children?" he said to a crowd of several thousand. "We cannot watch with indifference the worrying phenomenon of the constant fall of the population."

The pope spoke in the main square of Ferrara, a city of 145,000 between Bologna and Venice that had 152,000 inhabitants in 1963.