Leaders in the movement to protect human life from conception to natural death held a conference in Rome on Saturday to discuss various pro-life initiatives underway throughout the world. “The idea was to bring together international leaders from the pro-life movement from all over the world, here to Rome to support the Italians, but also to be here with the Church,” said Joseph Meaney, the Director of Coordination for Human Life International, one of the organizations sponsoring the event. The May 3 conference known as the Rome Life Forum, hosted just down the street from the Vatican, was held in anticipation of Italy’s fourth annual March for Life on May 4. “This meeting is very exciting. It’s actually the first international life forum here in Rome, held in connection with the Roman March for life,” Meaney told CNA on May 3. Leaders from 36 different pro-life groups from Europe, North America, and as far away as New Zealand met behind closed doors on Saturday morning to discuss and strategize. The afternoon public portion of the conference included speakers Cardinal Raymond Burke and Catholic commentator George Weigel. Conference participant Julia Calinescu, who moved to Romania with her husband Dan six years ago to begin the pro-life group LifeNation, said that she felt it was “very significant for leaders to be able to get together.” “You still need a mentor, you’re never a ‘master of the trade,’ so it was really great for us to be inspired by people who have so much more experience than we do,” she noted. Dan Calinescu said he felt encouraged by meeting so many other pro-life leaders from around the world. “I think sometimes especially in Romania, because the pro-life movement is so young, sometimes you feel alone and like you’re fighting on your own, but just being here … we get strength from this,” he said. He said the meeting provided exposure to other pro-life advocates’ experience. “We’ve got a lot of ideas written down that we want to try, plus contacts, so we hope that we can exchange ideas in the future.” Another attendee was Robert Colquhoun, a London-based International Outreach Director with the 40 Days for Life Campaign that encourages Christians “to pray and fast for an end to abortion.” He said it was encouraging “to see the collaboration and cooperation of many different leaders from around the world.” The 40 Days for Life Campaign focuses specifically on helping “locally organized community initiatives” of Christians who hold prayer campaigns outside of abortion centers around the world. The group is in its eighth year and has expanded to 522 cities in 21 countries. “We’ve seen nearly 9,000 lives that were scheduled to be aborted, saved from abortion,” Colquhoun explained. “We’ve also seen over 140 workers leave their jobs and quit the abortion industry, and we’ve now seen 50 abortion centers close their doors for good.” He said the morning portion of Saturday’s conference helped to “get people communicating, collaborating together where they can collaborate,” across the different fields in the pro-life movement. Heartbeat International, which has over 1,060 affiliates throughout the globe, was another represented organization at the event. Dr. Marie Meaney helps the group’s work to aid crisis pregnancy centers in beginning or improving their services. “We also look at the wider problem because often women feel that they have no choice, that they have to have an abortion,” she explained, noting that some abortions are motivated by life problems ranging from sexual abuse to lack of employment. “And we try to help them, concretely, in their particular situations, so that they will have a future for their child.” Meaney expressed her excitement at meeting others in movement. “It is an opportunity to make connections, to work internationally--to gather ideas, to exchange ideas,” she said with enthusiasm. Saturday’s conference also resulted in a joint declaration from 52 pro-life leaders from 16 countries. Each leader signed a document asking the bishops of the Catholic Church to withhold Holy Communion from pro-abortion rights politicians “as an act of love and mercy towards those same politicians.” The document cited Scripture, canon law, and a 2004 letter to U.S. bishops from the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The document said that Catholic politicians who support abortion are in “grave sin.”