South Sudanese leaders in Vatican retreat

South Sudanese leaders in Vatican retreat

Pope Francis Thursday told the formerly warring leaders of South Sudan that peace is possible in their fledgling country through the power of Christ's resurrection. South Sudan plunged into civil war two years later after Kiir, a Dinka, fired Machar, from the Nuer ethnic group, from the vice presidency.

At the close a two-day retreat in the Vatican for the African leaders, the pope asked South Sudan's president and opposition leader to proceed with the peace agreement despite growing difficulties.

Machar's presence was in doubt until the last minute because aides said that Sudan, which is a guarantor to the September peace deal, has been restricting his movements in capital, Khartoum. "Resolve your problems", said the Pope.

To enhance his message, the pontiff directly implored the leaders present - President Salva Kiir Mayardit, Vice Presidents Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabio (widow of South Sudanese leader John Garange) - and knelt before each, kissing their feet.

The Vatican brought together South Sudanese leaders including Kiir and Machar for 24 hours of prayer and preaching on Wednesday, an attempt to heal bitter divisions.

"I urge you, then, 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.

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More than a third have been uprooted from their homes and around 400,000 have died in the civil war, which plunged parts of the country into starvation and has been characterised by such extreme sexual violence and widespread ethnic cleansing that the United Nations warned in 2017 of a possible genocide.

"The goal of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will; it is to reflect on our own lives and the common mission God has entrusted to us; to recognise our enormous shared responsibility for the present and future of the people of South Sudan and commit ourselves to be reinvigorated and reconciled to the building up of your nation".

In his prepared address earlier on Thursday, Francis said South Sudan's people were exhausted by war and the leaders had a duty to build their young nation in justice. This has certainly held true for South Sudan as recent government insurgency campaigns in Yei and Wau have included killings, looting, and burning of civilian property.

The idea to hold the retreat from the 10-11 of April was proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby who also is taking part in the retreat together with the ecclesiastical authorities of South Sudan.

"It was a unique occasion and it was concluded by Pope Francis with a challenge".

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