Pope Francis kisses feet of leaders for peace

Clay Curtis
April 14, 2019

Onlookers were stunned on Thursday when Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan's rival leaders in an fantastic act of humility aimed at promoting peace and to encourage unity among Africa countries torn by war. "I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward", the 82-year-old pontiff said after he performed the rare gesture.

"I express my heartfelt hope that hostilities will finally cease, that the armistice will be respected", the pope told President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar at the Vatican.

Thursday's military coup in Sudan sparked anxiety in neighboring South Sudan that the toppling of longtime President Omar al-Bashir could scupper a fragile peace deal that ended South Sudan's five-year civil war. He and Pope Francis have been supporting the peace efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches and, the pope said again, they hope to visit South Sudan together when there is peace.

"Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people". "If a delay makes Machar feel more secure and ends the war, it will be worth it", Peter Martell, an author of a history of South Sudan, told Reuters.

South Sudan's conflict began 2 years after it gained independence from Sudan in 2011.

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About 400,000 people died and more than a third of the country's 12 million people were uprooted, sparking Africa's worst refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The Vatican, together with the South Sudan Council of Churches and the Rome-based Sant' Egidio global peace group, brought the leaders together for prayer and preaching inside the pope's residence in an attempt to heal divisions. "So, as simple citizens, you will become fathers of the nation." .

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.

In a report by Reuters, it was gathered that the event played out Thursday, April 11, during the pope's short retreat at the Vatican.

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