· Vatican City ·

At Verona’s Arena of Peace

‘Future in our hands not only leaders’

 ‘Future in our hands  not only leaders’  ING-021
24 May 2024

After his encounter with children outside the Basilica of Saint Zeno, Pope Francis travelled by car to the Arena of Verona, to preside over the event, “Arena of Peace — Justice and Peace Embrace”. More than 12,000 people were there to welcome him upon his arrival. During the almost two-hour long event, the Holy Father answered questions from people who had participated in round-table discussions on democracy and rights, migration, the environment, disarmament and labour and employment.

The first to address a question to Pope Francis was Mahbouba Seraj from Kabul, Afghanistan, who asked what kind of leadership is required to build peace. In his response, the Pope underlined that our highly individualistic cultures contribute to an ever-growing risk of making the community dimension disappear. When this is applied to politics, it can become the root of dictatorships, or lead to the establishment of leaders who believe they are lone heroes who have the task of saving everyone on their own. This poisons authority, the Holy Father stressed. He quoted the bantu saying, “I am because we are”, to explain that the kind of authority that is needed is one that is capable of understanding its own strengths, its own limitations and its need for the cooperation of others. “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. This kind of authority fosters participation which is crucial for a society.

Elda Baggio of “Doctors Without Borders” spoke about migration, and asked the Holy Father what can help us achieve the conversion required to be close to migrants and victims — the change in perspective that is necessary in order to listen to them and to make their voices heard. Pope Francis noted that Jesus’ actions of closeness to the least ones not only broke with convention and prejudice, but more importantly, made visible those who were despised and kept on the margins by the society of the time. In this way, Jesus taught us that we should “stand with the little ones, the weak, the forgotten”, and all people who are marginalized. The first step in the conversion that is required is to recognize that we are not at the centre. The next is to accept that this will inevitably lead to a change in lifestyle, because walking with the least ones touches our hearts and our lives, forcing us to change our pace, to let go of what is no longer needed and to keep what is life-giving. It changes the world, a world in which we have become masters at washing our hands like Pontius Pilate.

The third question, on the environment, was from Annamaria Panarotto, who asked the Pope how activists can push politicians to build relationships of justice. Pope Francis began by noting that our society spurs us to do everything quickly and that we have become accustomed to having everything now. We are burdened by this aggressive attitude which does not feel natural, is tiring and makes us feel like we never have enough time. We are trapped in the repetition of what we do, without having any energy or time to seek harmony. However, the Holy Father said, it takes time to nurture and build peace. It cannot be rushed. It requires the “revolution” of slowing down, listening, and entering into dialogue. Indeed, he pointed out, many wars begin due to a lack of patience of caring for peace and for the mutual respect that is a part of it.

Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, and Sergio Paronetto, former Vice President of Pax Christi, Italy, asked Pope Francis the fourth question: how can we be artisans of peace and mediators for near and far away conflicts, in our complex time in history. Firstly, the Pope said, the absence of conflict does not mean a path towards peace. Conflict challenges our creativity as we try to find a solution to get out of the labyrinth. We cannot escape from conflict as it is part of our life and we will always be called to face it. The first step in dealing with conflict is thus to accept that it is and will always be a part of our lives. We should welcome conflict as an opportunity to resolve it, the Holy Father said. However, he added, although dialogue always helps us resolve conflict, it does not create equality, because opposing sides have their own distinct views. But it does create plurality. This plurality is what makes societies progress.

The final question was asked by Israeli Maoz Inon, whose parents were killed in Hamas’ attack on 7 October, and Palestinian Aziz Sarah, whose brother was killed in Gaza. Describing their belief that there can be no peace without an economy of peace based on justice, they asked the Holy Father how young people can become “peace entrepreneurs” when they are often trained by technocratic paradigms and a culture of profit at any cost. Before Pope Francis could respond, the two men embraced each other, a sign of brotherly affection, that the Pope and the crowd applauded at length. The Holy Father said he believed there were no words to say before the suffering of two peoples. But, he added, these two men had the courage to embrace one another, to witness that they not only want peace, but also a project for the future. After a moment of silence to pray for peace, Pope Francis asked the faithful to think of the children.

Pope Francis concluded the Arena event with the following words:

We have heard from women. And the world needs to look to women in order to find peace. They are the mothers.

The witness of these courageous builders of bridges between Israelis and Palestinians confirms this.

I am always more convinced that “the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change” (Address at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, 9 July 2015). Peoples should have self-awareness, and take action as a people, take action with this willingness to make peace.

But you, weavers of dialogue in the Holy Land, please, ask world leaders to listen to your voice, to involve you in negotiation processes, so that accords can arise from reality, not from ideologies. Let us remember that ideologies do not have feet to walk, they do not have hands to heal wounds, they do not have eyes to see the suffering of others. Peace is made with the feet, hands and eyes of the people who are engaged, all together.

Peace will never be the fruit of diffidence, the fruit of walls, of weapons aimed against one another. Saint Paul says: “Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). Brothers and sisters, our civilizations are sowing death, destruction and fear at this time. Let us sow hope, brothers and sisters! Let us be sowers of hope! Let each one find a way to do it, but always being sowers of hope. It is what you are doing in this Arena of Peace: sowing hope. Do not stop. Do not be discouraged. Do not become spectators of a so-called “unavoidable war”. No, spectators of a so-called unavoidable war, no. As Bishop Tonino Bello used to say, “Stand up, all you sowers of peace!”. All together.

Thank you.