Pro-lifers who had just finished the third annual Italian March for Life on Sunday were surprised to see Pope Francis coming toward them in the popemobile.

"It was a great joy for us because we didn't expect this at all, we just expected his message," said March for Life organizer Virginia Coda Nunziante.

"It was extraordinary because I met the people who unexpectedly saw him coming," she told CNA on May 13.

The popemobile brought the Pope down the first block of Via della Conciliazione after he finished his first canonization Mass and the weekly Regina Caeli prayer on Sunday.

May 12 was also the day that around 20,000 pro-lifers from Italy and beyond converged on Rome to defend the unborn and call for an end to abortion in the country.

Their route took them from the Coliseum to Castel Sant' Angelo, which sits on the end of Via della Conciliazione. A large number of the pro-lifers then continued down the street to be present for Pope Francis reciting the Regina Caeli.

Before praying the Marian prayer, the Pope acknowledged the presence of the group.

"I greet the participants of the March for Life which took place this morning in Rome and invite everyone to stay focused on the important issue of respect for human life, from the moment of conception," he said.

"I think Pope Francis understands the importance of this and he encourages all Catholics to stand up against abortion," said Coda Nunziante.

Speakers at the march included the Mayor of Rome, Giovanni Alemanno, well-known American pro-life activist Lila Rose, and the president of the U.S. March for Life, Jeanne Monahan.

But one speaker at the event, a Chinese seminarian who wore sunglasses and asked participants not to take his picture, stood out because he gave his testimony without revealing his identity.

"His words were very touching and he spoke about what is happening in China where over 400 million babies have been aborted in 40 years," Coda Nunziante recalled.

Irene Van der Wende, who was conceived in rape and aborted her baby after she was also raped at age 15, also spoke out against abortion at the Coliseum.

"I've come here to educate the public about what abortion does to children," said Van der Wende.
"It's only when we show the graphics, pictures and the reality that people will be moved in their hearts," she told CNA.

The event's main speaker was Jeanne Monahan, the president of the U.S. March for life, who said she thinks the annual American gathering is the largest civil demonstration in the world.

"But coming here is amazing," Monahan said.

"Italians' understanding of being involved in the public sphere is very different to ours, so this is pretty new to them," she commented.

For Monahan "it's also fascinating to be in Rome" because she is Catholic.

"Italians are a little shy and discouraged to get involved because of the culture of death. So everything that we can do makes a huge difference," said Monahan.

"I also think it's beautifully ironic that today is Mother's Day in Italy and in the U.S. because the call to many women is to be a mother, either spiritually or physically," she said, summing up the holiday.

On the other hand, "abortion is the most anti-woman thing that anyone could every do," Monahan stated.