Thursday, 25 April, 2019

South Sudan frets over whether Sudan coup could derail fragile peace deal

In extraordinary peace gesture Pope kisses feet of South Sudan's leaders Pope kissing feet of Rebecca Nyandeng
Jeannette Daniel | 14 April, 2019, 01:58

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the retreat was created to facilitate "encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust", and would bring together those leaders who have "the responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people". The group met for two days on Wednesday to "reflect and pray" for mission, peace, and prosperity for the South Sudanese people, a statement from the interim director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, said.

The meeting between the two men had been billed as "an occasion for encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust", the Vatican said, describing it as "both ecumenical and diplomatic at the same time". Welby had proposed the idea of the retreat to the pope.

Speaking in South Sudan's capital Juba previous year, President Kiir apologised to citizens for the suffering they were subjected to during the war.

Pope Francis, in a dramatic gesture after an unprecedented retreat at the Vatican, knelt to kiss the feet of South Sudan's previously warring leaders on Thursday as he urged them to not return to a civil war.

The Pope's words were made even more pressing as anxiety grew in South Sudan over whether Thursday's coup in neighbouring Sudan could scupper a fragile peace deal that ended South Sudan's brutal five-year civil war. He also repeated his wish to visit the country along with other religious leaders to solidify the peace.

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Despite a peace agreement signed last summer (News, 14 September 2018), millions of civilians are bearing the brunt of the civil conflict, which is estimated to have killed almost 190,000 people. "In other words, He will ask us to render an account not only of our own lives, but the lives of others as well", the pope said. The Pope also kissed their feet.

"We have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our Father, who desires to grant them justice and peace", he said.

"The objective of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will", he continued.

Pope Francis told them how he learned last September that a peace agreement for the country had been signed and congratulated political leaders for "having chosen the path of dialogue".

Others who attended the retreat were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican community, members of the South Sudan Council of Churches, and other Catholic and Presbyterian Church leaders from Africa.

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