Pope Kisses feet of South Sudanese leaders in plea for peace
Pope Francis on Thursday, April 11, at a peace retreat with South Sudanese leaders pleaded with President, Salva Kiir, and the opposition leader, Riek Machar, “as a brother, I ask you to remain in peace. I ask you from my heart, let’s go forward. There will be many problems, but do not be afraid,” the Pope said to the warlords. “You have begun a process, may it end well.” Pope Francis then went down on his knees and kissed their shoes, one after the other.
In his gentle fatherly tone, Pope Francis said, “There will be fights among you, but let these be inside the office,” Francis pleaded with them. “But in front of the people, hold hands,” so as to “become fathers of the nation.”
Pope Francis, together with The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Anglican Communion, who initiated the retreat and who has been supporting the peace efforts of the South Sudan Council of Churches for years, was at the retreat for the leaders from South Sudan.
Pope Francis pointed out to the Kiir and Machar that while God’s gaze was on them, “there is another gaze directed to you; the gaze of your people, and it expresses their ardent desire for justice, reconciliation and peace.” He then urged them “to seek what unites you, beginning with the fact that you belong to one and the same people, and to overcome all that divides you,” he said. “People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts: Remember that with war, all is lost!”
“The purpose of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will,” Pope Francis said.
South Sudan has been at war since its independence in 2011 with a death toll of about 400,000 people. The war has deeply divided the mostly Christian population on ethnic lines. Several attempts at getting a peace deal have failed. Pope Francis has continuously prayed for South Sudan and its poor and suffering population.
The Pope reminded them that South Sudan has suffered “so much death, hunger, hurt and tears,” and hoped that the leaders, this time, “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,” Francis said.
“Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue,” the Pope told the leaders. “Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people.”
“We may well have made mistakes, some rather small, others much greater,” but Jesus, the Pope said, is ready to forgive. “Jesus is also gazing, here and now, upon each one of us. He looks at us with love, he asks something, he forgives something, and he gives us a mission. He has put great trust in us by choosing us to be his co-workers in the creation of a more just world.”
Pope Francis prayed that the leaders would be touched “with the power of the… so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony.”