Pope Francis, in Plea for South Sudan Peace, Stuns Leaders by Kissing Their Footwear

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ROME — Pope Francis on Thursday got on his hands and knees just before the leaders of South Sudan’s government and its opposition, kissing their footwear and imploring the two males to keep the tenuous peace that exists in between them.

“I’m asking you with my heart,” the pope mentioned to the president, Salva Kiir, and the opposition leader, Riek Machar, clutching his hands in front of his chest. “Stay in peace.”

The dramatic gesture occurred through a spiritual retreat by the two males at the Vatican and came only hours following the military in neighboring Sudan ousted its longtime leader, President Omar al-Bashir, following 30 years of authoritarian rule.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 by December 2013, the nation had devolved into a civil war that killed at least 400,000 folks and displaced millions.

Final September, Mr. Kiir and his former vice president turned rebel leader, Mr. Machar, signed a peace agreement in Ethiopia. On Thursday, the two males went to the Vatican for an exceptional two-day ecumenical retreat inside the pope’s residence.

“There will be fights amongst you, but let these be inside the workplace,” Francis mentioned, staring the leaders and other South Sudanese officials in the eye and urging them to respect their current armistice and commit to forming a unity government subsequent month. “But in front of the folks, hold hands.”

This way, the pope mentioned, they can “become fathers of the nation.”

Other peace agreements in between the South Sudanese leaders have failed. The fate of this one particular, professionals say, is connected to what takes place in Sudan now that Mr. Bashir has been deposed.

Mr. Bashir was, along with Uganda’s president, a guarantor of the deal. His departure is however a further complication for a war-torn nation struggling to keep peace.

The Vatican has for years sought to foster peace in South Sudan, and it saw an chance in the most current armistice.

Francis sat at his desk in a smaller space inside the Vatican facing the South Sudanese leaders, who had been seated on a couch. The pope study remarks in which he mentioned that even though God’s gaze was on them, “there is a further gaze directed to you: is the gaze of your folks, and it expresses their ardent wish for justice, reconciliation and peace.”

The pope encouraged the two leaders to discover popular ground.

“I urge you, then, to seek what unites you, starting with the reality that you belong to one particular and the very same folks, and to overcome all that divides you,” he mentioned. “People are wearied, exhausted by previous conflicts: Try to remember that with war, all is lost!”

At the conclusion of his speech, the pope provided some impromptu remarks, attractive to them once again to maintain the peace.

Then he sought the leaders’ permission to method, and stunned the males by kneeling. His breath was labored as he bent down to kiss their feet.

One particular following the other, the males helped Francis as he struggled to rise up once again.

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