Co-authored with Thaddeus Baklinski

ROME September 23, 2013 ( – Over 80,000 people gathered in the Slovakian town of Košice yesterday for the country’s first ever March for Life, a number that has astonished even the event’s organisers. “Such a number of people no one expected,” one eyewitness told local news services. 

So many came that the 2.5 kilometer route was too short to accommodate all the marchers, according to an on-the-spot account by Hlavné Správy, a local news service, and the crowd shut down most streets in the city’s core. Although the March was supposed to have started by 12:30 pm, by 3 pm most of the crowd “had not yet budged because of the huge mass of people who completely fill the street”. 

The March for Life was held on the same weekend as the Gay Pride demonstration in the capital, Bratislava, which reportedly attracted about 1000 participants.

Organizers of the March for Life said their aim was to mobilize the public to advise legislators that the “protection of life, and family consisting of a married man and woman as indispensable basis for the stability and development of life in Slovakia has public support.” 

While Slovakian pro-lifers have held pro-life demonstrations before, this event, organized by the Conference of Slovak Bishops (KBS) with the help of Fórum života (Forum for Life), was the first event organized on a national scale. 

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“The atmosphere in the city is electrifying from emotion; people have tears on their faces,” one observer wrote, adding that the number of children and people with disabilities was “astounding”. 

Flags and banners asked for protection for the family and protection of human beings from conception. 

One man, who identified himself as a homosexual who had come from out of town to attend, said, “I am for the family. I myself grew up in a family. And of course, I’m all for life…Attitude for life is an attitude for all the people. That we do not discriminate against anyone is first and foremost the issue with abortion.” 

The march was preceded by a Mass, celebrated by 16 Catholic bishops, and an evening vigil. Papal Nuncio Mario Giordana conveyed greetings from Pope Francis to the crowd, saying, “Pope Francis sends you a message: Never let anyone stop you from promoting the culture of life.” 

Miroslav Mikolášik, a member of the European Parliament who attended, told the news site Aleteia, “We were all shocked at the sheer magnitude of the March for Life.”

Organizers of the March had prepared for a massive demonstration, expecting about 50,000 participants. However, according to initial estimates, between 70,000 and 80,000 people actually attended. Participants came from Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, the Slovak Spectator reported.  

The well-organized preparations included 700 volunteers and 50 paramedics with four ambulances.

According to a report by Hlavné Správy, March organizers used four kilometers of security tape, and had 100 information boards, 10,000 balloons and 100,000 leaflets along the march route. Parking was prepared for 500 buses and 5000 cars, while three special trains were dispatched to Košice from Bratislava and Zilina.

(See photos of the march here)

In a pastoral letter read in Catholic churches across the country on September 1, the Slovak Bishops urged the faithful and all those who believe in the value of life to attend the National March for Life. 

The bishops warned that the attitudes of many lawmakers and those who have an impact on public opinion in Slovakia are focused more often on death than on life. They pointed out that the introduction of laws permitting euthanasia in some countries, as well as abortion and genetic experimentation, are all areas of serious concern, noting that while “unborn children are killed with impunity, the elderly, the ill and otherwise inconvenient people are now also at risk.”

“The National March for Life, with the theme ‘Poďme von a bojujme za život’ (Come out and let us fight for life), is the culmination of many years of efforts to promote the culture of life in response to a growing disregard of the value of human life and the family as the ideal place for life to flourish,” said co-organizer Fr. Dušan Škurla. 

Explaining the choice of venue for the country's first National March for Life, Fr. Škurla said, “Košice, as this year's European Capital of Culture, is a good place to appeal to the nation for the protection of life as a basic cultural expression.” 

The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union each year to draw attention to and promote the cultural heritage of cities in member states. Košice in Slovakia, along with Marseille, France, are the European Capital of Culture cities for 2013. 

“We would like to make Košice a city of the Culture of Life,” said Fr. Škurla, who for many years organized marches and citywide prayer services for life in the eastern Slovakian city of 1/4 million inhabitants. 

The rally began in the afternoon with the reading of the National March for Life Manifesto. 

The manifesto called for all public officials, particularly the federal government and all state institutions, to promote and create legislation for the protection of every human being from conception to natural death. 

It called for legislation to protect “marriage of a man and woman as a unique and irreplaceable bond which respects the natural law that is recognized by right reason.”

Something few participants at any March for Life have seen was present in Košice on Sunday.

Catholic priest and scout leader Fr. Andrej Legutký from Vrbova flew over the march route in a paraglider filming the huge procession of the National March for Life below. 

Since 1986, abortion has been available on demand for pregnancy up to 12 weeks. Girls 16-17 can obtain abortions without parental consent, though the family is required to be notified. Abortion rates, however, are dropping, from a peak in the late 1980s of 40 per 1000 pregnancies – about 35 per cent of all pregnancies – immediately following liberalisation of the law, to the lowest rate recorded since legalisation in 1957, of under 15 induced abortions per 1000 births, a drop of about 73 per cent. 

Slovakia is 68.9 per cent Latin Catholic, 10.8 per cent Protestant and 4.1 per cent Greek Catholic. The country is suffering the same demographic crisis faced by most European nations, with a total fertility rate of 1.39 children born per woman and an aging population. The median age for women is 39.9 years.