The World was shocked to see yesterday Pope going down to his knees and kissing feet of wearing leaders of Sudan in his Vatican home urging for peace.
It was an unprecedented moment as Pope brought both the warring factions of South Sudan to his home and urged for peace and not return to a civil war.
He appealed to President Salva Kiir, his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents to respect an armistice they signed and commit to forming a unity government next month.
“I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward. There will be many problems but they will not overcome us. Resolve your problems,” Francis said in improvised remarks.
The Pope, who suffers from chronic leg pain, struggle and was helped by aides as he knelt to kiss the shoes of the two main opposing leaders and several other people in the room.
The Vatican brought together South Sudanese leaders for 24 hours of prayer and preaching inside the pope’s residence in an attempt to heal bitter divisions before the country is due to set up a unity government.
“There will be struggles, disagreements among you but keep them within you, inside the office, so to speak,” Francis said in Italian as an aide translated into English. “But in front of the people, hold hands united. So, as simple citizens, you will become fathers of the nation.”
Sudan is predominantly a Muslim country but the Southern part is Christian and it broke away to form a new country in 2011. But South Sudan plunged into civil war two years later after Kiir, a Dinka, fired Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, from the vice presidency.
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 two sides signed a power-sharing deal in September calling on the main rival factions to assemble, screen and train their respective forces to create a national army before the formation of a unity government next month.