In a rare gesture, Pope Francis on Friday kissed the feet of two South Sudan leaders who were warring leaders earlier but decided to call truce last year, bringing to an end a war which led to the death of thousands.
The pope kissed their feet during a two-day spiritual retreat at the Vatican. After performing his rare gesture, the pontiff asked both leaders to stay in peace and move forward. President Salva Kiir and his rival, Riek Machar had clashed in 2013 that led to civil war lead to the death of 400,000 people dead.
However, both leaders signed a peace treaty in 2018 leading to end of war.
While the pope normally holds a ritual washing of prisoners’ feet on Holy Thursday, he has never done something similar to political leaders.
“I express my heartfelt hope that hostilities will finally cease, that the armistice will be respected, 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,” the pope said in his closing statement, the Associated Press reported.
South Sudanese leaders have not come out with a statement in response to the pope’s appeal to maintain peace.
In 2013, South Sudan got freedom from Sudan. Two years later, the country plunged into civil war, that led to death of many people.
Vatican meeting was held days before the end of peace agreement”s pre-transitional period. Kiir’s three vice president’s were also present on the occasion. Next month, opposition leader Machar is likely to return back to the country and serve as Kiir’s deputy once again.
The pact, that was signed in September was met with delays, missing deadlines and constant fighting with key aspects yet to be implemented.