Tens of thousands of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters rallied Saturday to tell Italy that they alone should be counted as families, pressuring parliament to reject legislation that would grant new rights to unmarried and same-sex couples.

The “Family Day” rally, drawing hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in an unexpectedly strong outpouring, was organized by lay Catholic groups and family associations. While the demonstration was endorsed by Italian bishops, neither the Vatican nor the Italian bishops’ conference was formally behind it.

“With this demonstration, we wanted to give a signal. It must not be a sporadic event, but it must contribute to dialogue and help (people) understand family must be protected,” said Emanuele Cirillo, a 27-year-old Neapolitan who had traveled to Rome for the demonstration.

People from across Italy began pouring into the massive St. John Lateran piazza in the morning. The demonstrators were entertained by singers, speakers and even a brief video featuring the late John Paul II, the beloved pontiff who died in 2005, in a 1988 speech about the need to protect family.

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