Pope Francis will travel to South Sudan in July. Three years ago, he shocked the country’s leaders with this gesture of peace. pic.twitter.com/NymIswrVWn— America Magazine (@americamag) April 11, 2022
On April 11, 2019 Pope Francis surprised the world by kissing the feet of South Sudanese leader during a spiritual retreat at the Vatican.
Why was the pope’s gesture so important? South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, founded in 2011. But since its beginning, the country has experienced nearly constant violence.
In 2013, a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar led to violent clashes throughout the country. Since then a number of peace processes and agreements have been created, but none have secured a lasting peace.
In 2019, Pope Francis hosted these two men and other leaders of the country at a spiritual retreat in Rome. Near the end of the retreat, he shocked everyone by getting to his knees and kissing the feet of these leaders.
Following the Spiritual Retreat, the Community of Sant’Egidio began a complimentary political dialogue entitled the Rome Initiative which seeks to foster an inclusive peace by bringing together the Government of South Sudan and the non-signatories of the 2018 peace agreement. The goal is to take seriously the invocation of pope Francis to work for peace in South Sudan.
Groups in South Sudan’s civil society have also been inspired by Pope Francis’ actions. One such group, CEPO, is launching a campaign for peace with Pope Francis’ kiss as the central image.
Many feel that the pope is in a unique position to help achieve this long-awaited peace.
He will make a trip there on July 5-7 of this year. It’s another clear sign of the Holy Father’s deep dedication to and hope in the potential for peace in South Sudan