Rome March for Life 2021: for a culture that cherishes every life without compromise

On 22 May, the Rome March for Life returned to the public square at the heart of Christendom with great success and was joined by leading politicians and prelates including His Eminence Cardinal Burke. Among the speakers were Monsignor Antonio Suetta, the Bishop of Ventimiglia-Sanremo, John Smeaton, CEO of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Janusz Kotański, the Polish ambassador to the Holy See and Eduard Habsburg, the ambassador to the Holy See from Hungary, followed by moving personal testimonies. This was the tenth March on the public square (leaving aside the one last year when we had to give our witness online).

On the day of the march, Via dei Fori Imperiali was truly a glorious sight: crowded with children, families, religious and pro-life people against the dramatic backdrop of the Colosseum. Although the traditional march had to be replaced with a stationary demonstration as Italy is only beginning to relax its Covid restrictions, it was clear to all present that the March for Life is not about marching but about its message given in the public square by the people who truly believe in it: “Yes to life from conception without exception or compromise.”

On the eve of the march, His Eminence Cardinal Burke celebrated Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, accompanied by the choir of Msgr. Pablo Colino, former director of the Vatican Julia Chapel. His Eminence George Cardinal Pell as well as other prelates and clergy were also present. 

Leading a meditation before the Benediction, Cardinal Burke urged the faithful to pray “that the respect, protection and care of every human life, created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the outpouring of the Precious Blood of God the Incarnate Son, be restored”. And added: 

“Let us go, with our hearts united with the heart of the Lord, under His banner and not behind the slogans of the world. Yes, the battle is tough. Yes, we feel like David in front of Goliath. But Christ is here, especially in the Blessed Sacrament, to reassure us in our cooperation with Him in the work of salvation, to purify our hearts from fear, doubt, confusion, error and sin.”

The representatives of different groups present on the day of the march were too numerous to mention here. The area immediately in front of the stage, however, was lined with doctors, pharmacists and nurses in their white gowns, young women and a crowd of children.

Although the March for Life is apolitical, a number of politicians were present – indicating readiness on their part to work towards the repeal of the abortion law and changing all legislation opposed to natural law. 

Abortion in Italy was legalised on 22 May 1978, with the passing of “Law 194” which made abortion legal for any reason within the first 90 days of pregnancy, and with a doctor’s certification after that. Since 1978 more than six million children are estimated to have been aborted in Italy. Italian culture which has always been associated with large families changed dramatically after the legalisation of abortion. Today, the Italian birth rate is among the lowest in Europe. In 2020 the number of births in Italy was the lowest since World War II. 

Two ambassadors representing nations which are taking a stand in defence of the family delivered a strong message affirming the inherent link between respect for life and the family and keeping the faith. Janusz Kotanski, Poland’s ambassador to the Holy See, outlined the progress made in his country to protect life and the family. He spoke of the fight for the abolition of eugenic abortion in Poland – a battle that has attracted international attention since Poland’s highest court ruled, in October 2020, that abortion on the grounds of disability is unconstitutional. “We must not be afraid!” the ambassador reassured the crowd, “The good always wins in the end. We just have to serve it with all the commitment and courage we have.”

Eduard Habsburg-Lothringen, Hungary’s ambassador to the Holy See, spoke of the fruits of the pro-family policies implemented by the Hungarian government over the past nine years, such as a 40 per cent increase in marriages, a 24 per cent decrease in divorces, a 30 per cent decrease in abortions. In 2019 the birth rate increased 9.4 per cent and marriages 100 per cent. He attributed these results to the real commitment to helping families and a change in mentality which recognised that many children are in fact a gift to society. “We need a change of attitude, making the family visible in society,” he said. “It is always a great help if key members of the government are not only Christians but speak and act as Christians. Because Christian faith and family go together! Let’s pray that Italy will be full of children again!” The ambassador, who is also the archduke of the House of Austria, concluded by leading the crowd in singing the Regina Caeli.

John Smeaton, chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, spoke of the lessons he has learnt in his 47 years working for the pro-life movement on the national and international level, emphasising, above all, the necessity of church leaders to speak out boldly against abortion. He said: 

“The pro-life movement is part of a much wider and deeper historic crusade for the restoration of Christian civilisation. Let’s not forget that we fight for ‘going back to the real normal’; we are united in the fight to end abortion completely and in the restoration of a civilisation where human life is valued without exception. It really is not normal to kill children in the womb. May this time that is marked by a sense of isolation, distance, and separation; also be a time to unite with ever greater force and to be united in the truth of Christ.”

Two powerful personal testimonies followed. First there was Anna Bonetti, a 23-year-old pro-life activist, who was born deaf but is able to speak thanks to a cochlear implant and speech therapy. She said: 

“I converted to the pro-life cause the moment I learnt the shocking truth about the abortion of deaf children. In fact, the connexin 26 gene that caused my deafness, is identifiable by means of prenatal diagnosis, silenced in the silence of media hypocrisy. A diagnosis after which most of the children like me will never see the light of day. For a long time, I felt like a mistake, a flawed piece of human fabrication. But then I realised that the mistake was not me but the way in which society had seen me up to that moment and I believe it is essential to restore to everyone the dignity they deserve. Sometimes there is the idea that being against abortion means being against freedom, in reality, the only freedom that is denied is that of the unborn child.”

Next, Anna and Dario Alinti, a couple from Milan, who had aborted their child in 1980 gave a most moving witness of the grief following an abortion. Anna shared that she carried this wound inside her for over 40 years. “I was aware that no one could ever give me back what I had lost that day. I have never forgiven myself and I don’t think I could, although my husband and I have received many gifts: six children, including three in heaven, four grandchildren and one who is about to be born in a few months.” She went on to explain how “Rachel’s Vineyard”, the ministry helping women and families after abortion was instrumental in their conversion and healing, having trusted their child to the Lord as one of the martyred innocents. Her husband Dario made a moving appeal to men to care for their wives: “I regret not having been by the side of my wife, but having left her alone with the choice. If I had been by her side, she would not have done it.” His testimony was a strong plea to all men to stand beside women and show them an alternative to abortion, a tragedy from which there is no turning back.

Msgr. Antonio Suetta, the Bishop of Ventimiglia-Sanremo, offered his bold and powerful message via a live video link. “I am here,” he said, “to bear witness to the commitment of the Church, of believers and of so many people of sound conscience to promote, serve and protect human life from its beginning to its natural end, in all its variety, and especially when life is most vulnerable and suffering.” 

He encouraged those present with his unequivocal support when he said: 

“I look with affection and confidence at these people, whom I feel part of; who, as St John Paul II himself stated in Evangelium Vitae, ‘are the people of life’ (cf EV no 79) and who are called to act accordingly.” 

“As a bishop of the Church of Christ,” he concluded, 

“I strongly feel the responsibility incumbent on pastors: ‘may they never be so grievously irresponsible as to betray the truth and their own mission by proposing personal ideas contrary to the Gospel of life as faithfully presented and interpreted by the Magisterium.’ (cf EV no 82) For this reason, I am here today: to give witness, strengthened by the courage that does not come from me but from Christ and also from you, the people of life. Truly, ‘for I have many people in this city’. (cf Acts 18:10) 

“History and the world are full of characters like Herod, and we can look at them plainly and serenely knowing that ‘non praevalebunt’. I conclude my greeting to you with affection and with a passage from the book of Sirach as a word of blessing: ‘Strive even to death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you.’” (Sir 4:28)

Virginia Coda Nunziante, President of the March for Life, concluded the event, by reiterating that since it began in 2011, the march has been a public witness to the inviolability of every life as a gift from God and to opposition to Italy’s iniquitous Law 194 which has resulted in the death of more than six million innocent victims. We must increase our commitment to being the voice for those who cannot speak or defend themselves, she noted, and for this cause, the march is, above all, a unifying event.

Before the final scene of this year’s March for Life in Rome, when many children and young people were invited to join her on the stage, Virginia Coda Nunziante defined the great task that lies ahead:

“The battle against the pro-abortion culture must be fought in defence of the moral order of values – that is, of that natural and moral law which has its cause and ultimate end in God. We have always submitted our battle to His glory and to His interests, as simple instruments of God, who is the director and always the winner.

“We must deeply desire that the whole of our society returns to being truly Christian because only then peace, harmony, and prosperity will be found. And I say this as an Italian citizen who deeply loves her country but also as a Catholic, perfectly aware that society must either convert or move towards an inexorable decline.”

And pointing to the children on the stage she said: 

“I am also convinced that the cause for life, the good of our country is in their hands: Our Lady will guide their steps in the future, as she has always guided us. We all have a great responsibility to protect these young children from an attack, unprecedented in history, to destroy their purity and innocence as well as to protect the innocents who are being killed in the womb. 

“Today we have the satisfaction of having fought a good battle in defence of life, against abortion, without exception and without compromise.

“We return to our homes with a heart full of trust in the future because Divine Providence never fails to help those who take sides in defence of Truth and the Good.”