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Pope leads forum for peace in Italy’s Verona

Verona – Pope Francis presided over a forum for peace Saturday during a visit to Verona, home to the warring Montague and Capulet families in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”.

It was the second trip since April for the pontiff, who has cut back his travel schedule for health reasons. 

“Peace will never be the result of mistrust, of walls, of weapons pointed at each other,” the 87-year-old told the audience gathered in Verona’s Arena, a 1st-century Roman amphitheatre.

“We sow death, destruction, fear. Let us sow hope!” he told some 12,500 people present in the northern Italian city.

It was Francis’ first trip since a visit to Venice in April where he presided over mass in St Mark’s Square.

Sitting on a wooden, high-backed chair in the arena, the pope held up a peace flag before taking part in a question and answer session on peace, and listening to testimony from Israelis and Palestinians.

Francis then met with around 500 inmates at the Montorio prison and was due to preside over mass at the city’s Bentegodi football stadium later.

Francis started his day trip at the Romanesque Basilica of San Zeno, believed by some to have inspired the crypt in Shakespeare’s 16th-century tragedy, where the doomed young couple wed.

The pope met children there, telling them: “listen to others, play with others, but don’t fight with others!”

Francis, who uses a wheelchair, has suffered increasing health problems in recent years, from knee pain to surgery to his colon and for a hernia.

Those operations and several bouts of influenza have forced the head of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to slow down. His last international visit was to France last September.

Despite the pope’s health concerns, the Vatican is planning an ambitious 12-day trip to Asia in September, taking in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Singapore.

Before that, the pontiff is due to visit the Italian city of Trieste in July.

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