Pope at Verona’s Arena of Peace: ‘Future in our hands, not only leaders’

Pope Francis meets with thousands of people in Verona for the Arena of Peace event, and urges regular people to take the cause of peace in hand instead of waiting on world leaders.

By Devin Watkins

Around 12,500 people gathered in Verona on Saturday for the “Arena of Peace – Justice and Peace Shall Embrace” event, which was chaired for the first time by Pope Francis.

During the nearly two-hour-long event in the ancient Roman amphitheatre, the Pope took several questions from people who participated in various roundtables focused on themes ranging from migration to the economy and from the environment to disarmament.

Authority requires participation, not a ‘hero’

The first question was put to the Pope by Mahbouba Seraj, a Afghan woman from Kabul, who asked him what kind of leadership is required to build peace.

Pope Francis responded by highlighting the negative effects of individualism on a society’s collective consciousness, saying individualism leads to a distortion of authority as a “hero” figure.

A proper view of authority, added the Pope, requires the participation of all members of society.

“The authority needed to build solid peace processes knows how to value what is good in everyone, knows how to trust, and thus allows people to feel capable of making a significant contribution,” he said.

Standing with migrants

The second question was put to the Pope by Elda Baggio with “Doctors Without Borders,” who asked him about the need to stand with victims of forced migration.

Pope Francis recalled that the Gospel enjoins Christians to “stand with the little ones, the weak, the forgotten.”

Jesus, he said, places those on the margins of society at the centre, inviting them to bear witness to the possibility to set aside prejudices.

“To end all forms of war and violence,” he said, “we must stand by the little ones, respect their dignity, listen to them, and ensure their voice can be heard without being filtered.”

The Pope called on society to undergo a conversion in order to ensure migrants are treated with justice, while setting aside those parts of our lifestyles that seek to avoid people who suffer.

Peace must be cared for

The third question was focused on the environment and was posed by Annamaria Panarotto, who asked the Pope how activists can push politicians to build relationships of justice.

He replied that our society is filled with a tension between doing things quickly and our awareness that this speed is not natural.

Pope Francis encouraged people to “slow down” in order to embrace the need to “care for peace.”

“Peace is built through dialogue and recognizing others,” he said.

Embracing tensions instead of suppressing them

The fourth question was posed by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the St. Egidio Community, and Sergio Paronetto with Pax Christi, who together asked the Pope about the need to listen to others in order to build peace.

The Pope encouraged everyone to embrace a plurality of ideas, rather than trying to make everything uniform.

Trying to hide tensions, he said, only ends up making them erupt in a more violent way.

“The first step to living healthily with tensions and conflicts is to recognize that they are part of our lives, they are physiological, as long as they do not cross the threshold of violence,” he said. “Therefore, do not be afraid of them. Do not fear if there are different ideas that confront and perhaps clash.”

Witnesses to pain and reconciliation

The final question was posed by Maoz Inon, an Israeli whose parents were killed in Hamas’ attack on October 7, 2023, and Aziz Sarah, a Palestinian whose brother was killed in Gaza.

As the two men embraced in a sign of brotherly affection, the Pope and the crowd applauded at length for their recognition of their shared pain due to the war in the Holy Land.

The Pope said there were no words that could express the power of their witness, and he invited everyone to pause for a moment to pray for peace.

Peace relies on regular people

In conclusion, Pope Francis expressed his belief that the path toward peace relies on regular people and not on the powerful.

“I am increasingly convinced,” he said, “that the future of humanity is not only in the hands of great leaders, great powers, and elites. It is above all in the hands of the peoples; in their capacity to organize themselves.”

He concluded by recalling that peace comes from dialogue and not from ideology.

“Peace will never be the result of distrust, walls, weapons aimed at each other,” he said. “Saint Paul says: "You will reap what you sow" (Gal 6:7). Let us not sow death, destruction, fear. Let us sow hope!”

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Pope Francis chairs 2024 Arena of Peace in Verona

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18 May 2024, 11:49