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Pope Francis knelt and kisses feet of South Sudan's leaders 'to encourage peace'

Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan's rival leaders on Thursday to encourage them to strengthen the African country's peace process.

The pope asked South Sudan's president and opposition leader to proceed with the peace agreement despite mounting difficulties.

The Pope got down on his knees and kissed the leaders' feet one by one in a surprising act of humility.  

The Pope usually holds a ritual washing of the feet with prisoners on Holy Thursday, but this is the first time to perform such an act with political leaders.

"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 pope said in his statement.


The Vatican spiritual retreat brought together President Salva Kiir and opposition head Riek Machar as well as Kiir's three vice-presidents.

The South Sudanese leaders did not comment on the Pope's plea for peace.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and in 2013, the country plunged into a brutal civil war, which left at least 400,000 people dead, according to media reports.

The two-day Vatican meeting was held one month before the end of the instable peace deal's pre-transitional period.

Opposition leader Machar is expected to return to South Sudan and serve as Kiir's deputy On May 12th.

The agreement was signed in September in Khartoum, the capital of neighbouring Sudan, but it has been delayed due to missed deadlines and continued fighting.

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