Rome, Italy, May 4, 2014 / 12:11 pm
The fourth annual March for Life held in Rome May 4 drew attendees from across Italy, Europe and the United States.
"The beautiful thing about this march is that it has always been very international," explained Joseph Meaney, Director of Coordination for the global pro-life group Human Life International.
"The Italians have had a pro-life movement for years, decades, but they've never really had a lot of marches, and so they put this together… (with) all different kinds of Italian groups, widening out to European, and now even further," he told CNA on May 4.
Rosa, an Italian woman from the province of Caserta, north of Naples, was at the March for Life in Rome for the first time. "I'm happy to be here with my friends because it's a moment of joy and happiness," she explained.
The group came to "demonstrate together for life, because life is good, and invaluable for all, and it's necessary to protect it."
"Life is the most fundamental good that we can have. Therefore, if we don't protect it as young people, who can?" Rosa's friend added.
Giorgio, a young man originally from Albania, expressed a similar conviction.
"Life must be respected properly--it's the foundation of everything," he said, adding "it would be very beautiful if...everyone in the world rose up to protect life."
Elvira, a 17-year-old girl from Poland, travelled to Rome with a group of 50 young people. She said they wanted to show that "life is very important for everyone."
Sunday's March also had an interreligious element: as one Muslim man who walked with a group of Moroccans explained, "we are together, here for life."
Pope Francis touched on this theme in his greeting to the march participants. At the close of his Angelus address from the window of the Apostolic palace, he noted that this year the March for Life had "an international and ecumenical character."
"Many congratulations and go forward, and work on this!" the Pope encouraged participants.
Last year, he made a surprise visit to the March for Life by riding the popemobile to greet marchers.
The March for Life in Rome is one aspect of a wider pro-life movement in Italy.
"The Italian pro-life movement really started very strongly in the crisis pregnancy area, and the 'muovimento per la vita' has had a huge impact in almost every major city in Italy," Meaney said.
These efforts draw "wonderful people who are out there all the time" and have phone lines open 24 hours each day people to call for help. "The Italian pro-life movement has worked very hard to help mothers in distress," he said.
"But the political level and the marching level has kind of lagged a little bit behind," he acknowledged, "and so I think they're kind of taking a page from the US and saying it's important to get together as a people of life--to get all together, and go out on the streets."
Geoffrey Strickland, who works with Priests for Life in Rome, noted a similar trend. "The Italians frequently say it's the initiatives in the United States that give them hope to continue on."
"Today is a beautiful example of the universality of the Church in action," remarked Strickland, a young man from Gulfport, Miss. "You have a grassroots movement that has just taken root and grown…(and) an absolutely amazing movement among the youth to be here."
The March has grown significantly in its first four years.
This year marks Dr. Marie Meaney's third year participating in the March.
At first, she recalled, "we were a rather small group."
"It was still wonderful to be there and to be part of that, but it was amazing to see the growth in the last years: suddenly we're 30,000 people, and it seemed there was no end to it!"