The surprising and moving gesture of Pope Francis at the conclusion of the two-day spiritual retreat for peace in South Sudan in 2019, which the Pope hosted in his own house, has an evangelical flavour.
It is a forceful image, which cannot be understood except in the climate of reciprocal forgiveness that characterized the two days of retreat.
It was not a political or diplomatic summit, but an experience of prayer and common reflection among leaders who despite having signed a peace agreement, are struggling to ensure that it be respected.
Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan’s rival leaders in 2019 , in an unprecedented act of humbleness to encourage them to strengthen the African country’s faltering peace process.
He appealed to President Salva Kiir, his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents to respect an armistice they signed and commit to forming a unity government Then he got down on his knees and kissed the leaders’ feet one by one.
President Kiir, his main opponent Riek Machar, Rebecca Garang, wife of former leader John Garang and Taban Deng Gai, Kii’s first vice president looked visibly shocked by the gesture as the Pope knelt down to kiss their feet in turns.
In his first reaction since the incident, Kiir said it could signal one of two consequences: a blessing or a curse.
The pope usually holds a ritual washing of the feet with prisoners on Holy Thursday, but has never performed such a show of deference to political leaders