Pope Francis kisses shoes of Sudanese leaders in plea for peace
14 April, 2019, 17:00
Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan's rival leaders Thursday, in an unprecedented act of humbleness to encourage them to strengthen the African country's faltering peace process.
Asked if he thought the national unity government could be ready by May 12, he said: "Unfortunately, I have to say "no". South Sudan plunged into civil war two years later after Kiir, a Dinka, fired Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, from the vice presidency. He has entrusted much to us, and for this reason will require from us much more! A peace deal last August has reduced but not stopped the fighting.
The retreat participants included South SudanesePresident Salva Kiir and four of the nation's five designated vice presidents: Riek Machar, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior.
"Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue", he told them.
Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim, and the mainly Christian south fought for decades before South Sudan became independent in 2011.
Several ceasefire agreements and peace pacts have failed to end the fighting, which has led to the death of an estimated 380,000 people, uprooted a third of the population, forced almost two-and-a-half million into exile and triggered bouts of deadly starvation.
The Vatican, together with the South Sudan Council of Churches and the Rome-based Sant' Egidio worldwide peace group, brought the leaders together for prayer and preaching inside the pope's residence in an attempt to heal divisions. In South Sudan, rule of starvation due to the civil war.
The pontiff said he hoped "that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted, and that there will be a lasting peace for the common good of all those citizens who dream of beginning to build the nation". He also repeated his wish to visit the country along with other religious leaders to solidify the peace.
The retreat was the idea of Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, who attended the final part of the gathering.