Watch the moment Pope Francis kisses the feet of South Sudan’s leaders in the video below.
Video credit: VOA News
In an unprecedented act of humbleness, Pope Francis kissed the feet of South Sudan’s rival leaders as he begged them to retain peace in the country torn out by years of civil war.
The pope asked the country’s president and the opposition head to uphold the peace agreement amid the on-going tensions so as to strengthen the faltering peace process.
It happened at the closing of two-day spiritual retreat in the Vatican arranged for the African leaders.
People present in the room were left stunned when the pope knelt down with the help of aides despite being suffering from chronic leg pain.
The 82-year-old kissed the shoes of the rival leaders as well as several other people present there.
Pope Francis has never performed such an act of deference to anyone, although he usually performs a ritual washing of the feet with prisoners on Holy Thursday.
‘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 two-day Vatican meeting brought together the country’s president, Salva Kiir, the opposition leader, Riek Machar, and Kiir’s three vice presidents.
Pope Francis kissed the shoes of all of them.
South Sudan’s Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng Garang said the extraordinary gesture moved her. ‘I had never seen anything like that. Tears were flowing from my eyes,’ she said.
The retreat was arranged a month before the pre-transition period of South Sudan’s shaky peace deal ends.
On May 12, opposition head Machar will be returning to once again serve as President Kiir’s deputy.
Although the rival factions signed an accord in Khartoum, the capital of neighboring Sudan, in September, it was never honored by either side.
The agreement was met with missed deadlines and indefinite delays, and the fighting continued.
The future of already fragile peace deal became more uncertain with Thursday’s military coup in Sudan which saw the country’s longtime president, Omar al-Bashir, being ousted from the office.
‘Sudan has helped us with the peace deal. We hope that the new system will also focus on the agreement, ensuring that it will be implemented,’ Machar said.
South Sudan descended into a bloody civil war, which claimed at least 400,000 lives, just two years after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011.
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