Rome’s second annual March for Life attracted approximately double the number of participants compared to last year and concluded with Pope Francis personally greeting the marchers as they arrived at the Vatican.
Estimates of between 30,000 to 40,000 people attended the pro-life event on May 12, which began at 9am at the Colosseum and ended at noon about a mile away, at Castel Sant’Angelo near the Vatican, in time for the Pope’s Regina Coeli prayer.
The aim of the march is to affirm the sanctity of all human life, rally all people of good will to defend the right to life and urge others to denounce in politics and culture all legislation that is against the natural law.
The Rome event and the 16th annual March for Life in Canada, held May 9, mirror the annual March for Life in Washington, which marked its 40th year this year.
The Italian pro-life movement is especially focused on repealing, or at least publicly condemning, Law 194 that legalized abortion in the country in 1978. Since that time, more than 5 million unborn children have been aborted.
Like last year, Italians came from all over the country and included many young people, but more nationalities were present than in 2012, with high representations from Poland, France, Belgium and the United States.
This year’s event was also more festive, reflecting a growing optimism among pro-life activists that sentiments are changing.
"It’s a growing movement, and this is very important, as it means the culture of life is spreading," Virginia Coda Nunziante, chief organizer of the march, told the Register. "People are coming from all around Italy, but also around the world. Rome is becoming a center for national and international pro-life movements."
The Church generally keeps a low profile at the event, as it is directed at all people who seek to protect all human life. But this year, the Church was more actively involved, sending two leading Italian prelates to speak at a March for Life conference the day before the march and the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire, giving more coverage than last year.
At Eucharistic adoration the evening before the event, Cardinal Raymond Burke called the March for Life "an expression of the Catholic faith and an act of service to the society in which we live and to its common good."
Pope Francis made a point of welcoming the March for Life participants and invited "everyone to stay focused on the important issue of respect for human life, from the moment of conception." After reciting the Regina Coeli prayer, and as he exited the square, the Holy Father’s open-top vehicle took a short detour and traveled part of the way down the main boulevard leading up to the basilica, where he greeted the participants.
The march’s organizers said the Pope’s greeting represented "the highest recognition of the initiative and confirms the sensitivity of the Pope to the non-negotiable principles, beginning with the right to life."
During his address, the Pope drew attention to a petition taking place in Italian parishes aimed at giving legal protection to embryos, and he announced that the Vatican is to host events dedicated to Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (On the Inviolability of Human Life) on June 15 and 16. That occasion, the Pope said, would be "a special moment for those who have cared about the defense of the sanctity of human life."
Mother’s Day March
Rome’s March for Life 2013 took place on Mother’s Day and began with a series of impassioned speeches from a variety of pro-life representatives from all over the world. Speakers included the new president of the U.S. March for Life, Jeanne Monahan, as well as Lila Rose, founder of the anti-abortion activist group Live Action, which uses undercover techniques to expose abortion practices.
Rose received rapturous applause for her speech in which she stressed that life is the "human-rights issue of our day" and that "we will not rest; we will not grow tired until every child in the world is protected." She pledged to take Live Action’s undercover work internationally and said "young people are rising up all over the world" to defend life and that they "will not rest until we have victory: protection of the smallest."
Mayor Gianni Alemanno of Rome noted that once a year, and for many years, the Colosseum has turned out its lights as part of a campaign against the death penalty, logically leading him to conclude that one "cannot say No to the massacre of the innocents." Law 194, he said, would be just if it aimed at helping women not to have abortions and lending a hand to those in need instead of killing the children.
A woman who regretted her abortion for a child conceived through rape called for pictures of aborted victims to be publicly displayed. Irene Van der Wende from the Netherlands argued that abortionists are happy that, for "so many decades, we’ve not shown what happened to victims" and called on those present to "be courageous and start showing pictures to the masses."
A Croatian priest asked for prayers for his country, which is about to hold a referendum on same-sex "marriage" legislation, while a Chinese seminarian spoke about the evils of China’s one-child policy and forced-abortion laws.
Despite polls regularly showing high levels of support for abortion rights throughout Europe, many of the marchers were heartened by what they see as increasing opposition to anti-life and anti-family policies, in particular widespread protests against legislation to redefine marriage.
In comments to the Register, Roberto De Mattei, president of the Lepanto Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, implied that a sea change in European public opinion was taking place on these issues.
"I call it a ‘Latin Spring,’" he said, in reference to the 2011 Arab Spring that led to the toppling of autocratic regimes in the Middle East. "I say Latin because in France you’ve had enormous protests against same-sex ‘marriage,’ and in Italy we have the March for Life, where we are of the same mind as the American March for Life. Each is characterized by being spontaneous, grassroots movements."
Joseph Meaney of Human Life International, one of the march’s key supporters, said what’s happening in France is "revolutionary." "They’ve never had this big a mobilization," he told the Register. "So it’s good; there’s a lot of ferment — there are a lot of attacks, too — but at the same time many people are waking up and realizing they need to take action."
Heinz Huerzeler, secretary of the Swiss association Yes to Life, said the ’60s generation is "getting older and older, and the young generation is starting to make a difference." He was also particularly impressed by the lack of opposition at this year’s march, in contrast to a similar event that recently took place in Zurich.
Nicolo, a student from Florence, Italy, said he was confident the march would "send a strong signal" to politicians that increasing numbers of people are pro-life and that young people "are increasingly involved."