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VATICAN - 12 Apr 2019

Pope Francis kisses feet of South Sudan leaders

Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan’s rival leaders during a spiritual retreat in the Vatican on Thursday.

The 82-year-old pontiff performed the rare gesture of humbleness to encourage South Sudan's previously warring leaders to implement the revitalized peace deal.

At the end of the spiritual retreat in the Vatican, the pope asked President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to implement the peace agreement despite difficulties.

Pope Francis got down on his knees and kissed South Sudan political leaders’ feet one by one.

The Vatican retreat brought together President Kiir and opposition chief Riek Machar. Also present were first vice president Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Garang, the widow of SPLM founder John Garang.

The pope urged South Sudan leaders to respect the agreement they signed and commit to forming a unity government in May.

“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,” Pope Francis said in Italian as an aide translated into English.

The two-day Vatican retreat was held a month before the end of the peace deal’s pre-transition period. On 12 May, South Sudan parties are expected to form a transitional government of national unity.

However, the September 2018 agreement has been met with missed deadlines due to lack of funds.