During the last weekend of March the streets of Verona, Italy were flooded with people who came from all over the world to take part in the 13th session of the World Congress of Families (WCF.) Therefore, for three days, Romeo and Juliet’s town was left into the hands of a fair share of ultra-Catholic, pro-life and intolerant men and women who consider the so-called “gender ideology” as the main evil of the modern world.
The origins of the Congress — which has been classified as a “hate group”by the Southern Poverty Law Center — trace back to a meeting held in 1995 between the American official Alan Carson and the Russian sociologist Anatoli Antonov, which ended with the foundation of an ONG based on the traditional idea of “family” the two men shared. From that moment on, Congresses started being organised sporadically until 2012, when they officially came to be annual meetings held virtually all over the world.
The WCF brings together a number of social groups, associations, NGOs and charities that discuss around typical far-right topics such as the potential dangers represented by permissive abortion laws, the shame of civil unions, the intrinsic subversive nature of feminists and the extreme threat posed by the LGBTQ+ community to every member of society. Among this hefty crowd it’s not unusual to spot politicians, Ministers or MPs and this year the event was even initially sponsored by the Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers — who then withdraw the support among many controversies — and the Department for Family and Disabilities.
Particularly, the main stage of the Congress hosted the Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini (Lega,) the Minister for Families and Disabilities Lorenzo Fontana (Lega) and the Education Ministry Marco Bussetti (Lega) together with other prominent figures like, to mention but some, the notorious Senator Simone Pillon, FI’s leader Giorgia Meloni and Verona’s mayor Federico Sboarina. It also looks like the Congress caused (further) divisions within the Italian government, with Mr. Salvini strongly advocating in favour of it and the other Vice Prime Minister, Luigi di Maio (M5S) that didn’t even participate, stating that his party will not “celebrate the Middle Age in Verona.”
Furthermore, many radical associations fuelled the soul of the meeting with traditional ideas that do not allow for different perspectives to be even mentioned. I’m talking about concepts like the right to a free and legal abortion, the possibility of homosexual marriages or the understanding of women as independent individuals equipped with free will.
Loyal to the motto “God, homeland and family” the proud participants seemed happier than ever to exchange common views about the alleged decay of modern society, thorn by unspeakable sins and increasingly unwilling to redeem. Brian Brown — leader of the International Organization for the Family and Donald Trump’s close friend — claimed in front of an adoring crowd: “Let us stand together and fight for the Family. We are here to tell you that you’re not alone in this.” Filippo Savarese, the Italian spokesperson for CitizenGo, backed up the message by referring to the members of the public as “heroes.”
One of the main focal points discussed during the Congress was abortion. Many of the organisations which took part in it, in fact, define themselves as strong supporters of pro-life values and as such they tend to condemn every voluntary termination of pregnancy as wrong and, even worse, selfish. However, during the last couple of years these groups changed their communicative strategy: while before they loved using strong and fierce statements that were supposed to make people feel guilty about their decisions, they are now moving toward a more positive dialectic that allegedly supports for women and human rights while portraying a happy and cheerful family composed by a woman, a man and they’re enviable children.
However, despite this change of course, the attendees of the Congress were given a questionable key holder with the shape of a well formed fetus with spine, hands, feet and a face with closed eyes in order to raise awareness and deter people from aborting. The writing associated with it says: “Abortion stops a beating heart.”
Simultaneously, during the same weekend a completely different scenario coexisted with the WCF’s meetings. At least 30.000 men, women and children got organised to protest against the Congress and they gathered in Verona staging three days of impressive but peaceful demonstrations, with no acts of violence whatsoever.