It is a wonderful feeling to see a new pro-life initiative grow and thrive. On May 4 the fourth annual Italian March for Life processed 50,000 strong through the center of Rome, flags and banners for life waving strongly. Human Life International — as one of the initial and main co-organizers of the March — can look back with pride at how much this event has grown over the past four years and cast our thoughts forward to the impact it will have on Italy and beyond in the future.
The Italian pro-life movement has existed since before abortion was legalized up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in 1978 by the infamous Law #194. The focus of pro-life activity here has largely been on crisis pregnancy work, and the movement has a praiseworthy national network of hundreds of centers that help pregnant mothers and their babies.
Cultural activities and conferences have also been a feature of Italian pro-life efforts with some rallies and other activities. Displays of organizational strength and a willingness to occupy the public square calling for change — which is what a large march does — did not take place because, following the spirit of the Christian Democratic Party, they tried to be non-confrontational. With that passive attitude it was in some ways granting the public square to the culture of death. A coalition of pro-lifers, including HLI, decided to change this situation. We took a lesson from the USA and the Washington, D.C. annual March for Life, as well as European mega-protest marches in Madrid and Paris in recent years that have shaken up Spain and France.
Rome is the cradle of Western Civilization which came about through the natural gifts of the classical Greco-Roman culture and the supernatural gifts of the Old and New Testament Revelation. Rome is also the center of the Catholic Church as well as the capital of one of the most important European states. The fact that pro-lifers did not make their presence felt on the streets in the Eternal City for so many years contributed to the false triumphalist expectations of the international culture of death.
One of the reasons there is a rising generation of young pro-lifers in the U.S. is the common cultural experience of the largest annual protest in Washington, D.C. going back 40 years. One day every year pro-lifers take back the U.S. capital city from the culture of death and “flex their political muscles.” Whether they agree with us or not, the occupants of the White House, U.S. Congress and Supreme Court take note. Italy is starting to experience the same dynamic thanks to the Rome March for Life.
This year we almost doubled the length of the marching itinerary, and definitely felt the extra miles. I walked beside the HLI banner with HLI Rome Office Director Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro along with my wife at my side, carrying my little girl on my shoulders. Each event has its distinct character, and while the U.S. March for Life is most striking for its youth dimension, the Rome March is more characterized by young families with small children, and lay people led by priests and sisters. It helps, of course, that pro-lifers walk in the balmy month of May in Rome as opposed to the frigid late January snow and ice of D.C. Many Italians have great theatrical flare and most waved colorful flags and banners. They also like catchy chants which are a feature of American rallies as well. It was encouraging to see many young persons, priests and religious sisters from many different nations marching with us. We saw also Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and Muslims. The presence of all these young persons gives us a sense of hope.
Annual Rome Life Forum Begins
New this year was an international pro-life meeting and conference organized by LifeSiteNews with HLI and Family Life International New Zealand as the principle co-sponsors the day before the March. It was held in the Saint Pius X hall of the Holy See just off the Via della Conciliazione and St. Peter’s Square. Major right to life leaders from the USA, Europe, Latin America and Oceania gathered for this first Rome Life Forum. The morning session was a private meeting for leaders to discuss strategies and areas where we can co-operate together in spreading the Gospel of Life. The afternoon was devoted to important lectures by Raymond Cardinal Burke, the Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and Dr. George Weigel, the biographer of Saint John Paul II.
Dr. Weigel reflected on the ideology that arose in Germany of lives “unworthy of life” that became a core belief of both the Nazis and the Soviet Communists. This despicable and discredited doctrine has made a comeback among abortion activists, population controllers and euthanasia advocates. Dr. Weigel reminded us that we can have no better guide in fighting this ideology than Saint John Paul II who personally experienced both of these major 20th century totalitarian movements and gave us the encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae. This “Gospel of Life” Catholic document is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for those defending innocent lives around the world.
Cardinal Burke’s speech on “The Perennial Newness of the Gospel of Life” showed once again why he is so beloved and admired by faithful Catholics around the world. He displays a wonderful combination of charity, humility and scholarship, which shines through as he speaks. He emphasized the fundamental need to respect life and the conjugal act. Perversions of sexual morality are at the root of much of the culture of death: “The attack on the innocent and defenseless life of the unborn has its origin in an erroneous view of human sexuality, which attempts to eliminate, by mechanical or chemical means, the essentially procreative nature of the conjugal act.”
Spontaneous applause broke out when he, the highest judicial authority in the Church except for the Pope himself, came to the re-affirmation in his lecture that pro-abortion public authorities should not come forward to receive Holy Communion.
In this context, I cannot fail to note the grave scandal caused by legislators, judges, and political leaders who profess to be Catholic and who present themselves to receive Holy Communion, while, at the same time, they uphold and even promote laws which violate the moral law in its most fundamental tenets. The Church’s discipline, from the time of Saint Paul, has admonished those who obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin not to present themselves for Holy Communion. The discipline is not a punishment but the recognition of the objective condition of the soul of the person involved in such sin. It prevents them from committing sacrilege by violating the incomparable sanctity of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, and safeguards the Christian community and the community at large from scandal…
Cardinal Burke’s clarity of thought and judgment as well as his pastoral concern for those compounding their spiritual darkness by sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist is a beacon of light in the Church today.
A declaration calling on the bishops of the world to extend mercy to pro-abortion politicians by not allowing them to receive Holy Communion was circulated and signed by 52 leaders participating in the first Rome Life Forum. This document will undoubtedly grow in importance as more and more Catholic leaders sign on. The scandal of persons betraying their baptismal faith and embracing the culture of death is a grievous wound to the Church. This must not be compounded by giving the world the impression that such traitors are faithful sons and daughters of the Church. We earnestly pray for their conversion and subsequent re-admission to Communion.
The next day, Cardinal Burke courageously walked with the 50,000 pro-lifers the many miles of the Rome March for Life from near Termini train station, past the ancient Roman Forum and over the Tiber to St. Peter’s Square. The culmination of this trek was the blessed site of the resting place of the Prince of the Apostles. We came in the footsteps of so many millions of pilgrims to Rome over the centuries to the Vicar of Christ. As the pro-lifers swelled the throng filling the most famous square in the world, the Holy Father led us in reciting the Regina Coeli, the timeless prayer of the Church in the Paschal Season. He urged us to “keep going,” which we will certainly do. I am confident as well that these grace-filled events will continue to grow.
Both the conference and the March show us that we can win the war because the Lord is with us and He shows His mighty encouragement to us in the midst of all the difficulties that we face in our daily battles.