Rome’s March for Life Infused With Youth
More Than 40,000 Pilgrims Attend Fifth Annual Event
Rome’s fifth March for Life signaled the growing pro-life movement all throughout Europe, especially a resurgence of youth involvement. According to event organizers, the march this year reached more than 40,000 participants from all over world.
Virginia Coda Nunziante, founder and director of the event, felt confident the pro-life movement was strengthening, particularly thanks to the youth.
“You can see it from the crowds, every year growing in numbers. You can see it among the young people, especially the university students who are getting more involved. This is important because it has to start with the youth, so it’s essential we get them involved in defense of life.”
At an annual international pro-life conference preceding the march, and hosted by Voice of the Family, representatives from 18 European and North-American countries were present.
Logistically, the march this year, which weaved through the streets of Rome, added a new twist. Instead of starting in the morning and ending at St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus with Pope Francis, marchers gathered at the Vatican initially. After the papal blessing, which was followed by talks and testimonies, marchers headed off in song and prayer, despite a strong afternoon sun.
According to Nunziante, the reason for the change was intentional: “We wanted to start the march at 2pm because, in the morning, there were Masses, first Communions, etc. If we wanted parishioners and priests to come, it was necessary to move it to the afternoon. It was quite a success, so I think we will keep it this way — also because meeting the Pope at the end before was always a rush.”
Eye on the Future
The event’s theme this year extended beyond the abortion issue, protesting against the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide, as well. Both the Netherlands and Belgium practice state-sponsored euthanasia.
“The general theme is always the same — ‘Defend Life, No Compromise,’” Nunziante stated. “Thus, the message we would like to give our politicians is: We are for life, no compromise — so even against euthanasia. Life [is valuable] at all stages.”
Abortion does not only lead to different forms of attack against human life, it’s also a threat to the very future of society. For João, a Portuguese university student participating in the march, this concern is very pressing.
“I came to the march because this society, our society, doesn’t value the most innocent form of life, which is the child in the womb of his mother. When one does not protect life in its beginning, in its most innocent and unprotected stage, one cannot defend the rest of human life. A society that is paying to kill their future generation, I think, is a society that does not have any future in itself.”
Joseph Meaney, director of international coordination for Human Life International, said this predicted bleak future for society is, in fact, already becoming a reality in some European countries. He shared a recent experience in Spain.
“I was just on a pilgrimage — [along the] Camino de Santiago — walking through northern Spain, and it struck me to see how many villages were half abandoned, with roofs falling in. It was clear this country is dying, literally dying. They don’t have enough children to replace themselves.”
The phenomenon Meaney described in Spain mirrors his recent experience in Eastern Europe: “When I was in Bulgaria, for instance, one village said they had seven births and 23 deaths that year. So you definitely see the negative demographic impact in the European Union clearly.”
One testimony prior to the March for Life recounted an out-of-wedlock pregnancy at 21. The young woman’s boyfriend gave her an ultimatum — “me or the baby.” With the help of Rome’s pro-life crisis-pregnancy center, she chose her child.
While she had a support group, many woman don’t have anywhere to turn under that pressure, whether from boyfriends, friends or parents. But support is vital in such situations.
An interesting study carried out in Chile, by the research group Ideapaís (Idea Country), on complicated pregnancies had very telling results. Most striking was that 98% of woman considered abortion based on a lack of emotional support or under social pressure. In turn, 87% of women who received needed support, thanks to the organization United Chile, did not proceed with the abortion.
Experiences at the grassroots level correspond to Ideapaís statistics. For instance, João, working as a volunteer at clinics in Portugal — where abortion is legal on demand up to 10 weeks or through the entire pregnancy if the woman’s health is at risk — witnessed similar stories: “In many cases, when I talked to women coming for an abortion, they were really forced, by their mothers, their friends. Or they came because they were frightened that they were unable to raise the child.”
“What I am really struck by is that people say they are for ‘choice,’ the choice of abortion, and yet they don’t offer anyone choices,” said Meaney. In fact, “people who had abortions say that they felt like they had no choice.”
Marchers in Rome wanted to remind women there is another choice besides abortion, and many are ready to support them.
For Nunziante, that message is key. Besides being influenced by the U.S. March for Life to start the event, Nunziante was inspired by the words of Pope Benedict Emeritus XVI to the U.S. bishops in 2011:
“We cannot only be in conferences halls and churches. We have to be on the streets to let people know we are against death and in favor of life.”
Cecilia O’Reilly writes from Rome.
- May 31-June 13, 2015