VATICAN CITY — Rome’s inaugural March for Life May 13 “exceeded all expectations,” according to the event’s organizers.
An estimated 15,000 people — made up of laity, clergy and religious from all over the world, representatives of other religions, Italian politicians and Church officials — took part.
The marchers began arriving at the Colosseum around 8am, waving flags and banners under brilliant spring sunshine on May 13. Fittingly, the event fell on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, as well as Mother’s Day in many countries.
But the generally festive and peaceful atmosphere didn’t detract from the uncompromising message the marchers wished to convey. Written on the banners were hard-hitting slogans in defense of life: “Every abortion is a dead child,” “Life begins at conception,” “Abortion Law 194 [Italy’s abortion law],” “Enough with the silent genocide” and “194: 5 million dead already.”
The route, which had been marked out with balloons during the night by a group of volunteers from southern Italy, proceeded along the Fori Imperiali to Piazza Venezia, turning down the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele and reaching Castel Sant’Angelo before ending up in St. Peter’s Basilica for Mass around midday.
To welcome the first arrivals, two girls from the New Horizons Community, a pro-life group, read pro-life speeches by Blesseds Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. They were followed by interventions by Dr. Xavier Dor, president of the French organization SOS Tout-Petits, which stresses the important role of fathers in choosing life; and Dr. Gianna Emanuela Molla, the daughter of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who was canonized in 2004 for choosing to give her own life over having Gianna Emanuela aborted.
Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, also delivered a short speech and led the first part of the march before leaving and handing over the civic representation to his minister for equal opportunities, Lavinia Mennuni.
Many young people took part, with most marchers coming from northern Italy, followed by representatives from the center of the country and then Italians from the south, with a large participation of Sicilians. Well represented were also citizens from other countries, especially those where pro-life marches have become commonplace, such as the United States, Belgium, France, Spain, Poland and Germany.
Several prominent Italian politicians from across the political spectrum were also present, including Maurizio Gasparri, Stefano De Lillo and the well-known Egyptian-born convert from Islam, Magdi Cristiano Allam, who is now a member of the European Parliament.
Among the foreign participants were 25 members of the Filipino group Couples for Christ, 13 seminarians from the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, as well as representatives of the Order of Malta, Human Life International, and the Italian head of the Society of St. Pius X. Two Buddhist monks also marched, carrying a placard to end abortion in Tibet.
The march, which was also dedicated to Chen Guangcheng, the recently self-liberated Chinese dissident opposed to China’s one-child policy, concluded with a holy Mass in St. Peter’s presided by the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Angelo Comastri. Traditional Latin Masses were also offered.
The organizers have already planned next year’s Rome March for Life, which is scheduled for May 12, 2013.
More than 150 Italian pro-life associations were involved in this year’s march, only the second to take place in the country (the first was held in the northern Italian town of Desenzano in 2011). The specified aims of the Rome march were to affirm that “life is an indispensable gift from God”; to ask for “his help for a lost society”; to “deplore Abortion Law 194”; to “reiterate the distinction between good and evil, between true and false, between right and wrong”; and to “mobilize Catholics and all people of good will.”
Leading the event was pro-life activist Virginia Coda Nunziante, who was inspired to bring the march to Italy after attending the 39th annual Washington march in 2012. “Year after year we said: ‘Why don’t we do something like that in Italy?’” she told the Register. “In the U.S. the pro-life movement really is achieving its goals, it is influencing the presidential elections, and the issue of abortion is really important — they’ve achieved extraordinary success in 30 years.”
Asked why it has taken so long for Italy to stage such an event, Coda Nunziante said the pro-life movement has always sought encouragement from Italy’s Movimento Per La Vita, a federation of 600 local pro-life groups, but its president never wanted a march for life, believing it wasn’t necessary for Italians to demonstrate in such a fashion. Coda Nunziante and the other 150 organisations involved therefore took it upon themselves to organize it, making it very much a grassroots effort.
“What is important is that it is born from an independent and free initiative of 150 associations, not only Catholic, but also evangelical and others, and without political or ecclesiastical sponsors,” said Catholic historian and author Roberto de Mattei of the Lepanto Foundation. “This means that there is, in public opinion, a great sentiment in defense of life, and this is a strong message to send to the political, ecclesiastical and cultural world.” The march, he said, would become a date of “historic importance in the European pro-life movement.”
Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, who the evening before had presided over Eucharistic adoration in reparation for the crime of abortion at St. Mary Major Basilica, said that in view of Rome being a global capital, the march had “great significance for the whole world” and was a “fundamental witness to the inviolable dignity of human life and the responsibility all of us have to restore the respect for the dignity of human life in society.”
“If you look at the participation here, most of them are young people,” Cardinal Burke told the Register. “They understand the bankruptcy of a culture and society which is anti-life and anti-family, and so they’re here to manifest to others their commitment for life and for the family.”
Giacomo Cecci, a 22-year-old medical student who had come with a group of young people from Piedmonte in northern Italy, said the “strong presence of young people is a good sign because it shows there is still a generation able to develop into being a countercultural force in the world. It’s a sign of hope.” He added: “I’m very happy there are so many people here today because the bigger the numbers, the more it will mobilize the politicians.”
Cardinal Burke, when asked if he thought the march was a sign that the tide was turning in favor of the culture of life, said: “I believe so, and I’ve believed this for some time. There’s no question that the contrary forces are great and hold a lot of so-called worldly power. But here you have a force which is profoundly spiritual, and it will eventually triumph and overcome the forces of the culture of death.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.