Pope says tension and debate are inevitable, embrace them

Pope Francis visits Verona

VERONA, Italy (Reuters) - Arguments and tensions are inevitable in modern society and should not be brushed under the carpet, Pope Francis said on Saturday, warning that trying to impose a uniform vision fostered frustration and violence.

Addressing a peace gathering in a Roman amphitheatre in the northern Italian city of Verona, the pope said people needed to learn how to deal with conflict before it got out hand, but also recognise that holding different opinions was healthy.

"A society without conflicts is a dead society. A society that hides conflicts is a suicidal society. A society that takes conflicts by the hand is a society of the future," the pope told some 12,500 people gathered in the ancient arena.

"The flaw of dictatorships is not admitting plurality," he added.

It was the pope's second day trip to northern Italy in three weeks, following his visit to Venice last month, testing his stamina after repeated ailments over the past year that have sometimes forced him to curtail his public appearances.

As is now normal, the 87-year-old pontiff got around by wheelchair and appeared in good form as he first met priests and children in the city, before attending the open-air peace conference then having lunch in a local jail with prisoners.

Francis said the world was assailed by wars, but added that ordinary people had to try to build bridges and avoid being dragged into armed conflict at the behest of their leaders.

"Ideologies have no feet to walk, no hands to heal wounds, no eyes to see the sufferings of others. Peace is made with the feet, hands, and eyes of the people involved," he said.

Underscoring the pope's hopes for personal reconciliation, an Israeli man, whose parents died in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants, embraced on the Verona stage a Palestinian peace activist whose brother had died in an Israeli jail.

"I don't think there are any words to add to this," the pope said, leading the applause for their gesture.

The pope makes almost weekly pleas for an end to fighting in multiple conflicts, especially in Ukraine and Gaza, putting the drive for peace at the centre of his 11-year-old papacy.

"Don't stop. Don't get discouraged. Don't become spectators of so-called 'inevitable' wars," he told his audience.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by David Holmes)