Pope Francis shocked the world when he recently kneeled to kiss the feet of South Sudan leaders at the Vatican, politicians who had previously been rivals which led to years of civil war.
A video released last week by the Vatican shows the 82-year-old Francis breathing heavily as he kneeled to kiss the feet of President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the oppositional leader Riek Machar, in addition to Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior. Kiir and Machar were once rivals after the President accused his former deputy of staging a 2013 coup, though last year they signed a peace agreement in Ethiopia and are now attempting to form a stable government together.
“To you three, who have signed a peace agreement,” the Pope said, “I ask you as a brother, remain in peace.” He then added: “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 South Sudanese politicians were staying at the Pope’s residence for what was reported as an “unprecedented” two-day spiritual retreat, and were said to have found the Pope’s gesture “surprising and moving.”
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Pope Francis broke with papal protocol Thursday by kneeling to kiss the feet of South Sudan leaders who are former rivals. An aide assisted the pope, who is 82, as he kneeled down to the floor and kissed the feet of President Salva Kiir Mayardit and then Vice Presidents-designate Riek Machar and Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior. "To you three, who have signed a peace agreement," the Pope said, "I ask you as a brother, remain in peace."