To the delight and surprise of about 40,000 participants in Rome’s Marcia per la Vita (March for Life) Internazionale in Rome on Sunday, Pope Francis left the Apostolic Palace to join them in the popemobile as they gathered in the street.
In an interview with LifeSiteNews, Msgr. Ignacio Barreiro, head of the Rome office of Human Life international, said that it was highly unusual for the pope to have effectively joined the March for Life with the other participants.
Though, in his short papacy, Pope Francis has developed a reputation for a fair amount of spontaneity, it appears the Vatican may have prepared ahead of time for the pontiff to join the March for Life event. According to Barreiro, while no specific mention was made of the pope’s plan to join the marchers, crowd control barriers had been set up to guide the popemobile out of St. Peter’s Square, across the adjacent piazza, and down the Via della Conciliazione that leads to the Basilica.
Pope Francis also welcomed marchers at his usual weekly Regina Coeli address, taking a moment to openly endorse the European-wide pro-life petition against embryonic research. The “One of Us” campaign seeks one million signatures so that the European Parliament is then required to schedule a debate on the issue.
“I invite you to keep the attention of everyone on the important issue of respect for human life from the moment of conception,” the pope told the March for Life participants.
Pope Francis also invited all to attend the Vatican’s “Evangelium Vitae Day,” on June 15th and 16th, which he said will be “a special moment especially for those who care about the defense of the sanctity of human life.” The event is to take place “in the context of the Year of Faith,” the pope said.
March for Life organizers expressed delight with the pope’s greeting and the increase in participation since last year’s event. Barreiro said the march drew about 15,000 people last year and surged to 40,000 this year.
“The welcome of Pope Francis represents the highest recognition for the initiative and the confirmation of the sensitivity of the Pope to the non-negotiable principles, beginning with the right to life,” organizers said.
Pope Francis is known for his strong defense of the right to life. In 2005, as then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, he encouraged Catholics to defend the right to life even if they “deliver you to the courts” or “have you killed.”
Similarly, in that same year, at a Mass in Buenos Aires in honor of St. Raymond, the holy protector of pregnant women, then-Cardinal Bergoglio said that promoting life is “a road that is full of wolves.”