Around a million people are expected to attend a rally in Rome defending the traditional family at the same time as the Italian legislature prepares to vote on a bill legalising civil gay unions.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has given his support to the “Family Day” event on 30 January.
Italy is under pressure on the question of gay rights as it is the only country in western Europ without any legal recognition of same-sex couples.
However, there is uncertainty over whether the bill - which includes allowing for one of the same-sex couple to adopt the biological child of their partner - will pass when the vote on 28 January takes place.
The Italian Church has so far stayed out of the debate although Cardinal Bagnasco has said the family day is “absolutely necessary” and that the civil union bill is a “great distraction” from the political task of creating jobs and providing social security.
Traditionally the Church in Italy, with the help of the Vatican, has opposed attempts to bring in legislation recognising gay couples such as in 2007 when Roman Prodi tried to pass such a bill.
Under Pope Francis, however, the Italian bishops have taken a less combative approach: during a landmark speech to the hierarchy last November Francis called on them to embrace dialogue and ensure “theology never becomes ideology.” And another “Family Day” event last June received only tacit support from the Italian bishops.
When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires Francis did not oppose (nor necessarily support) civil gay unions - he was, however, opposed to same-sex marriage.
As Pope he has repeated the Church’s teaching on marriage being exclusively between a man and a woman although when asked about civil unions in a 2014 interview said: "We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety.”