TRENDING: Pope kisses feet of rival South Sudan leaders

Leroy Wright
April 14, 2019

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. Two years later, South Sudan plunged into its own intermittent civil war, with some 400,000 people killed and almost a third of the population uprooted.

South Sudan's opposition leader Riek Machar was travelling yesterday to the Vatican, while President Salva Kiir Mayardit was already in Rome and meeting with Italy's premier. There will be many problems, but don't be afraid, go forward, resolve the problems.

The leaders were apparently shocked to see the 82-year-old pontiff - who was helped by aides - got on his knees with difficulty to kiss the shoes of the two main opposing leaders and several other people in the room.

The gesture occurred during a spiritual retreat at the Vatican on April 11 where the President of South Sudan, 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.

The Vatican brought together South Sudanese leaders including Kiir and Machar for 24 hours of prayer and preaching on Wednesday, an attempt to heal bitter divisions.

Almost 400,000 people are believed to have died during the clashes between the forces loyal to President Kiir and the fighters led by Mr Machar. "But in front of the people, hold hands".

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The civil conflict began shortly after South Sudan broke off from Sudan to become the youngest nation in the world.

"I urge you, then, to seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you", he said.

400 000 lives and uprooted a third of the 12-million population.

The arch-rivals last saw each other in October a year ago, shortly after the signing of a power-sharing deal, when Machar made a brief return to Juba for the first time since fleeing on foot in a hail of gunfire in July 2016.

Pope Francis confirmed his "desire and hope" to visit South Sudan soon, adding that this future visit would be together with Welby and and the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Following the military takeover in Sudan, concerns are being heard that the fragile peace might be in peril.

The pope commented on the uniqueness of the "spiritual retreat" co-hosted by the Secretariat of State and the offfice of Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.

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