January 23, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The 8th annual March for Life attracted a record number of French pro-lifers on Sunday.

This year’s march was considered especially crucial by local pro-lifers, since 2012 will see presidential and legislative elections in France. While the abortion issue has been more or less ignored in political debate in recent years, the organizers of the March for Life hope that the increasingly popular event will help draw attention to the issue.

One of the more hopeful signs this year was the increasing support of the French hierarchy of the Catholic Church for the event, including a surprising about-face from the Paris cardinal.

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Just before the 2009 edition of the March for Life, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois had clearly dissociated himself from the initiative during an interview on the official Parisian Catholic radio station, Radio Notre Dame. The cardinal suggested that from a “tactical” standpoint, “I don’t think the objective should be to yell things from the rooftops: what’s needed is work, to help with the work. And if you’re serious about that, results will follow and you’ll be heard.”

However, since then Pope Benedict XVI has sent messages of support to the Paris March for Life in 2011 and again this year.

Increasing pressure from pro-life Catholics, a growing number of bishops throwing their weight behind the March – 32 in total – and the enthusiasm of the young generation of Parisian priests have tipped the balance. In November Cardinal Vingt-Trois, in his final speech to the Assembly of the French episcopate, named the March for Life as “one of the means of action Christians choose” to promote respect for human life.

As a result, the March for Life was announced in many parishes and dioceses this year. The total number of marchers was up at least 20%, with an unprecedented number of diocesan priests from the Paris region taking part.

Cardinal Barbarin, primate of Gaul and archbishop of Lyons, sent his personal blessing: “May God bless you all, who will be taking part in the March tomorrow. My prayer will join yours, so that your March may bear fruit, and bring light and peace to our country.”

Three bishops attended the March in person. Mgr. Marc Aillet, bishop of Bayonne, told LifeSiteNews that he came to accompany the members of his flock who came to Paris for the occasion.

“I encourage the Catholic faithful to commit themselves to promote the culture of life and the Gospel of Life,” he said.

“I believe one of the ways to proclaim the Gospel of Life is to proclaim it in the streets, peacefully, joyfully and positively, as I believe it is being done today. That is why I think I am in my role as a pastor in accompanying and encouraging the faithful who are really committing themselves, and who sometimes give their life for this great cause.”

Noting that the “fears” which marked previous years are slowly being dispersed, Mgr. Aillet spoke of the new hope which is growing for life thanks to the presence of many young people and families.

More and more young people are present each year at the March for Life. Jean-Marie Le Mené, president of the Fondation Jerôme-Lejeune – which perpetuates the work of the famed French pro-life geneticist for children with Down’s syndrome – has been taking part in the March since its first year. He commented that a large part of the battle has already been won as young people who weren’t even born when the French abortion law came into effect in 1975 have heard the pro-life message and are ready to take up the battle without being hampered by preconceived ideas. “We all know that demography is what makes geopolitics. I think that is also true in the area of law-making.”

The Paris March for Life explicitly demands “laws for life,” support for the traditional family and an end to public measures that increasingly undermine respect for human life. The media kit for the March included a list of the many unfortunate measures taken by the government since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected into office. They include free distribution of condoms in high schools, social security refunds for morning-after pills, increased screening for Down’s syndrome and other genetic illnesses, propaganda for contraception and gender ideology in all publicly funded schools, increasing alignment of civil unions on marriage, and the financial reevaluation of abortions to make the activity more attractive to hospital doctors. More and more politicians of Sarkozy’s governing UMP party are making their support for homosexual “marriage” and adoption known.

To date, only one party has explicitly promised to abolish French laws that make abortion legal: the “Parti de la France” was largely represented at the March. The Christian Democrat Party was represented by its president, Christine Boutin. She intends to create better conditions to “welcome life” but is stopping short of advocating for abolishing legal abortion.

Boutin told the glossy women’s magazine Elle: “I do not want to question the principle of the abortion laws, even though my own position is public knowledge. I am not favorable to abortion. It is, I think, a tragedy. I think the trivialization of abortion is not a good thing. That being said, it seems to me to be necessary that one should be able to accompany women who are facing difficulties.”

Over 220,000 legal abortions are performed every year in France and numbers are rising, while France is one of the world’s most contracepting nations.