ROME – Inspired by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and her “Fridays for Future” protests, a young couple in Germany is striving to propagate Pope Francis’s vision of Europe as a continent “open to the transcendent dimension of life” by launching a “Sundays for Life” campaign, taking to the streets every Sunday for about 30 minutes on behalf of unborn children and their mothers.
Alicia and Andreas Düren, who live in Augsburg, Germany with their two infant daughters, are trying to push back against what Francis has termed Europe’s “loss of its own soul” with a new grassroots initiative aimed at engaging locals in the pro-life cause.
Speaking to Crux, Alicia, who’s American but now lives in Europe with her German husband, lamented the difficulties of trying to raise two young children in the Catholic faith as the secular society around them is increasingly hostile to the Church and the values they are trying to teach their children.
“Something needs to be done in Europe…there is no feeling in the continent. It feels like it lost its soul,” she said, adding that it was this impression that inspired her to launch their new “Sundays for Life” event.
When Francis visited Strasburg to address the European Parliament in 2014, he used the stage to outline his vision for the continent, which he said had lost its Christian roots and had dampened the spark of creativity that once made Europe great.
Francis pointed to the famed “School of Athens” painting by High Renaissance artist Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, noting how in the image, Plato is portrayed pointing up toward the “world of ideas,” while Aristotle points in the direction of the viewer, to the “concrete reality” of the world.
“The future of Europe depends on the recovery of the vital connection between these two elements,” he said in the speech, adding that “A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul.”
In particular, the pope warned against a loss of respect for life.
“Whenever a human life no longer proves useful for that machine, it is discarded with few qualms, as in the case of the sick, of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb,” he said.
The Dürens said they’ve watched the success of Thunberg’s climate change initiative, and they wanted to do something similar for the pro-life cause.
Rather than skipping class, the Dürens are asking local communities and families to pick a route in their cities and walk it every Sunday as a means of showing pro-life sentiment and advocating for the importance of human life.
Deeply involved in Germany’s prolife movement, Andreas and Alicia were married in Augsburg in 2015, at 20 and 22, respectively. They immediately wanted to start a family, thrusting them into the ups and downs balancing careers and finishing school while nurturing two young girls.
“I love my children and I wouldn’t change a thing,” Alicia said, adding, “We don’t regret starting a family this early.”
Though they had always wanted to get involved in the pro-life cause, they were unable to until about a month ago, when they attended the annual Pro-life Tour march, which began in Augsburg in July and ended in Bozen on Aug. 18. They plan to attend other marches, including a Sept. 21 pro-life march in Berlin, in addition to their own weekly walks, which they plan to bring their girls to.
It was during this year’s Pro-life Tour that Alicia said she first got the idea to start her own local event every week.
As an American, Alicia said the pro-life community in her husband’s native Germany seems zombie-like compared to the thriving pro-life movement in the United States. The whole topic of abortion, she said, is being “avoided like the plague” due to a cultural sense of political correctness.
“In Europe, the argument is dead,” she said, noting that almost no one brings up abortion, and some people she’s met were unaware of what being “pro-life” meant.
Alicia said she has been frustrated with the German bishops’ conference due to their general lack of support for the pro-life movement, as well as priests who are hesitant to bring it up.
“It’s all ‘woman, woman, woman,’ but no information on what’s actually going on” with mothers or their unborn children during pregnancy, she said, explaining that she wants her event to empower both women and their children, and hopes to engage the mainstream feminist crowd.
“We want it to be a secular movement” rather than a Catholic one, Alicia said, since it has the potential to reach a broader range of people that way. “We want gays, we want feminists, we want everyone cheering for life because it’s not a religious topic. It’s a human topic,” she said.
The initiative, which reflects the type of entrepreneurial spirit and forward leadership from young people that Francis has often advocated for, begins this Sunday, Sept. 1, in Augsburg, Bavaria, the German region where the Dürens live.
Marchers will meet in Augsburg’s Rathausplatz square, which is home to the church of St. Peter am Perlach, that houses the city’s famed image of “Mary, Untier of Knots,” at 11:30 a.m. and begin walking at noon. They will then finish at the Augsburg basilica in Ulrichsplatz square, roughly a 30 minute walk.
Participants will carry a bright pink banner with the slogan, “Join us, walking for babies and their mothers.” Only around 15-20 people are expected to participate this week, however, the Dürens are hopeful that slowly, more people will join in.
“We want to be a peaceful and happy presence,” Alicia said, explaining that they want to engage with the people they meet while walking, but as part of a family environment.
“We want it to be a family movement. We want families to be part of it,” she said, “because families are the nucleus of society and need to step up and defend life.”
Noting that most pro-life initiatives in Germany are led by young people who don’t yet have children, she said this is a key reason she wants to be involved and to speak with other young women, and she wants other families with young children to get involved too.
As someone who has faced these challenges and grown from them, Alicia said she is eager to talk to other young women not only about “embracing” the difficulties surrounding pregnancy and young motherhood, but “moving forward” without letting fear get the upper hand.
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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