.- Nearly 7,000 pro-life advocates marched from Rome's Colosseum to St. Peter's Square on Sunday for the city's inaugural March for Life.
"We've never seen anything like this in Rome, capital of Christianity, city of the Pope, city to which all Catholics in the world look," march co-organizer Juan Miguel Montes said of the event.
American Cardinal Raymond L. Burke led a group of priests in the march. He said it brought back memories for him of "so many marches" in America.
"They serve a very important function," he told CNA, "first to give a witness in our whole country to the inviolable dignity of human life but second, to awake consciences to what is happening."
The cardinal was "pleased" that such an event has finally reached Rome.
"I can only imagine that it will grow and increase every year and that it will be an important part in Italy, as it is in America, for the restoration of the respect for the dignity of human life," he said.
The march was officially the second annual Italian national March for Life. The 2011 event was held in northern city of Desenzano, on Lake Garda.
This year's initiative brought together 150 associations and a colorful mix of all ages and nationalities.
Seminarian Garrett Nelson, 23, of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana was on hand with a group of peers from Rome's Pontifical North American College. For him, it was like the March for Life in the U.S., but with an extra quality.
"It's been on a more universal level," said Nelson. "You see the world coming together to defend the dignity of human life and how important that is. It's really exciting to see the young and the youth movement of the Church growing up and defending the dignity of human life."
Minnesota-born Sister Compassionis from the Servants of the Lord religious family joined around 50 of her fellow sisters for the march. "It's fantastic to be here in Italy for the first national march for life in Rome," she told CNA. "To be a part of it as the Church and to be a testimony for life - especially on Mother's Day - to be here to stand for the unborn and the women who have been hurt by abortion."
In addition to a strong American presence, the Italian core was joined by Germans, French and Hungarians. With enormous flags in hand, a Polish delegation brought up the rear of the more than half-mile long string of marchers. Tibetan Buddhists even turned out to protest forced abortions in their homeland.
"What we've seen here is that there are always more young people in favor of life," said the co-organizer Montes, a representative of the group Voglio Vivere (I Want to Live). He put the average age of marchers at "well under 40." He noted that around four decades ago, laws allowing abortion started being passed by Western governments.
"It's the generation that should be âpro-abortion for education and culture," he said of the youthful turnout. "In reality, it is âanti-abortionâ and it is expressing itself in occasions like this one."
The march was just a part of activities this weekend in Rome. A day earlier, the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum university hosted a day-long congress under the theme "Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world." Following the congress, Cardinal Burke led Eucharistic Adoration at the Basilica of St. Mary Major.
As the capital city of Italy, protests are commonplace in Rome. For many, a pro-life march was a long time coming.
Famiglia Domani (Family Tomorrow) leader Prof. Roberto De Mattei said the march is "very important" because "it is the first time in Italy that there has been such an important demonstration for life and against abortion" since the abortion law of 1978.
At least five million abortions have been carried out since Italy's Law no. 194 was passed.
A man who identified himself as Vito of Vicenza, Italy's Con Cristo per la Vita (With Christ for Life) group was among the day's marchers. Along with other members of the association, he leads weekly prayers in front of 50 abortion hospitals across the country. The nation, he said, needs to be more aware of the problem of abortion.
"In Europe, it is said that this is a 'social achievement,'" said Vito. "It's actually its greatest shame. I give a big welcome to these protests. Let's do everything we can to give testimony to life, to give a future to Italy and Europe."
Organizers told CNA that they hope to make the Rome edition of the March for Life an annual event. In the future, however, it could be held on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.