ROME – When Pope Francis visits the city where William Shakespeare’s famed play “Romeo and Juliet” is set this Saturday, the local bishop, referring to the theme of the visit, said the “kiss” between justice and peace will be at the heart of the discussion.

On Saturday, May 18, the pope will make his first trip in his 11-year papacy to the northern Italian region of Veneto, traveling to Verona to attend the “Arena of Peace” event, which will bring together both civil and ecclesial entities and individuals to pray and call for peace in the world.

Bishop Domenico Pompili, assigned to Verona in 2022, told local newspaper Corriere del Veneto that peace is “not the simple absence of war. Peace refers to that other essential dimension which is justice.”

“This is why the slogan that frames the day, almost like a rainbow, is ‘justice and peace will kiss,’ because they cannot exist unless perfectly integrated,” he said, referring to the theme of the pope’s visit.

Pompili said the core aspect of the visit, in a word, is “the kiss, because it is a physical and spiritual, emotional and carnal mix. It is an integration between different people and a conjunction between people.”

“It must also be the objective of the city of Verona, whose beauty, which makes it so romantic, lies precisely in the perception of a place where there is a singular blend of beauty and harmony,” he said, adding, “this is not only inscribed in the walls and in the churches of this city, but it must be in the hearts and relationships between people.”

Pope Francis is expected to leave the Vatican around 6:30 a.m. Rome time (12:30 a.m. Eastern) Saturday, arriving in Verona at 8:00 a.m. (2:00 a.m. Eastern), where he will be met by Pompili, as well as local regional leaders.

After his arrival, Pope Francis will hold a meeting with priests and consecrated persons in Verona before giving a speech to children and young people.

He will then move on to the Arena of Peace event, where he will answer questions. He will later visit a prison, where he will meet with inmates and administrators before having lunch with several inmates.

In the afternoon, Francis will celebrate Mass at Verona’s Bentegodi Stadium before returning to Roma via helicopter, arriving back at the Vatican around 6:15pm local time.

In 2016, Pompili as the then-bishop of Rieti, became a prominent figure throughout Italy as he led the area through one of the worst earthquakes to strike central Italy in modern times, leaving some 300 people dead and practically destroying the beloved town of Amatrice, home to the famed pasta dish, amatriciana.

Pompili in his interview with Corriere said talk of a papal visit to Verona began shortly after his transfer there in 2022, and that Pope Francis is currently reading Romeo and Juliet, the Shakespearean play set there, in advance of the daytrip.

“I think it’s important to have direct knowledge of the pope: He is the most trustworthy interpreter of the Gospel, because he announces it and practices it, but he is also the voice outside the chorus regarding many human issues. I am referring in particular to peace. The world has gotten worse in recent years,” Pompili said.

In terms of what message the pontiff will deliver on peace, Pompili said Francis’s perspective on the topic is reminiscent of the biblical concept of “shalom: a basket of good relations, in which coexistence among peoples is possible.”

“His greatest contribution is to move away from the logic of the clash of civilizations, which has been the prevailing narrative of the 2000s,” he said, saying “economic competition” is at the heart of many modern conflicts.

He pointed to the ongoing war in Ukraine, arguing that the conflict is not just about Europe, but “it also has to do with a long-term conflict between the United States and emerging powers.”

“There are much broader logics that we must keep in mind. The pope has a broader outlook,” he said.

Asked about the pope’s “white flag” remarks on Ukraine, insisting in an interview earlier this year that it was perhaps time for Ukraine to raise a “white flag” and open to negotiations, Pompili said those words from the pope were intended as a provocation.

“If we enter into the logic according to which war is the only possible option, there is no longer space for anything,” he said, saying the white flag in this case “does not mean surrender, but openness to a dialogue capable of overcoming the arrogance of arms.”

Negotiation and dialogue are “indispensable,” he said, if the world is going to stop heading toward “irreparable disaster.”

“We are in a slippery moment, in which anything can happen and I do not want to be among those who, in other historical moments, undervalued some indicators that made it clear that we were about to go beyond the irreparable,” he said, speaking of the timeliness of the Arena of Peace event.

The dangers that humanity faces, Pompili said, should not cause alarm, but should rather “make us more aware that we need greater clarity in looking to the future.”

“Otherwise, we risk losing the perception of how a spark can become a fire,” he said, saying the Peace Arena is an opportunity “to give voice to this concern, which should inspire thoughts, words and actions not only of those who govern, but also of citizens.”

Noting that the Peace Arena event goes back decades, having been launched in 1986 by the Comboni missionaries, Pompili said the pope’s presence at this year’s event is a unique opportunity to facilitate an encounter of popular movements.

“Big changes don’t reign down from above and it doesn’t all depend on those who govern us, because this would generate an exemption from responsibility,” he said, saying the Peace Arena is a place where both believes and non-believers alike can “meet in the perspective of peace, united in the creation of practices and thoughts that go in the desired direction.”

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