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Rome Reports

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Pope to enemy leaders of South Sudan: Your people are tired of war

Pope Francis concluded the two-day spiritual retreat for peace in South Sudan. The two culprits of war participated: President Salva Kiir, and his former vice-president, Reik Machar.

The retreat was an idea of the leader of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He was also present at the retreat with the two leaders in conflict. The pope offered his house, Santa Marta, as the venue for this meeting which sought to go beyond a purely diplomatic dimension.

Part of the South Sudan's future transitional government and members of the Council of Churches from the country also participated.

Without breaking with the atmosphere of recollection, Pope Francis took the floor. He recalled that the first duty of a ruler is to protect peace.

"Dear brothers and sisters, let us not forget that God has entrusted to us, as political and religious leaders, the task of being guides for His people. He has entrusted much to us, and for this reason will require from us much more!"

He regretfully admitted before the politicians that those who have suffered the most from the civil war are the people. Since 2013, it has been devastating the youngest nation in the world. Therefore, he insisted that peace is still possible. To reach it, he welcomed forgiveness and overcoming differences.

"People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts: remember that with war, all is lost! Your people today are yearning for a better future, which can only come about through reconciliation and peace."

The meeting ended with a prayer. Then the pope spoke off the cuff with words addressed directly to the two leaders responsible for the war.

"I ask you as a brother: keep the peace. I ask you with my heart."

In an unforeseen gesture, Pope Francis approached Salva Kiir, Reik Machar and the vice presidents of the country and kissed all of their feet.