Before the moving and unprecedented gesture of Pope Francis kneeling (with difficulty) to kiss the feet of South Sudan's previously warring political leaders, Thursday evening, the preacher of the retreat, Nigerian Jesuit priest, Father Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator spoke to Pope Francis on behalf of the leaders.
By Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
Intense prayer and open frank dialogue
“(Holy Father), before you are the religious and political leaders of South Sudan: The Presidency, led by His Excellency President Salva Kiir Mayardit… We are grateful for the grace to be in your home over these last two days of retreat. It has been an unprecedented experience of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Two and half days of intense prayer; of deep reflection and of open frank dialogue and spiritual conversation,” said Fr. Orobator.
Father Orobator, who is based in Kenya, then summed-up the sentiments of the South Sudanese leaders.
“It has been a wonderful experience of retreat,” He said, adding, “The leaders leave have renewed and committed to the task of working for peace, striving for reconciliation and seeking justice for the 13 million people: The South Sudanese whose prayers and hopes they all carry,” he emphasised.
Pope Francis: “I beg you as a brother to stay the course of Peace.”
At the end of his prepared remarks, Pope Francis pleaded with both President Salva Kiir and Opposition leaders to honour the armistice they signed and work together as one government. He told them that there would be problems but the government leaders, away from the public gaze, should iron these out.
Speaking in Italian through an interpreter, the Pope told the leaders, "I beg you as a brother to stay the course of peace. I appeal to you with all my heart, move ahead as one. Resolve your problems within your offices," the Pope said in unscripted remarks before he then stunned his guests by kneeling and kissing the feet of President Salva Kiir and that of the Vice Presidents-designate.
Retreat was proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury
According to the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the two and half days retreat was approved by Pope Francis following a proposal presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of the Anglican Community, Justin Welby.
In all, four of South Sudan’s five Vice Presidents-designate attended the retreat. These are Riek Machar himself, James Wani Igga, Taban Deng Gai and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior -the widow of the South Sudanese leader, John Garang.
South Sudan’s new beginning
Come 12 May, next month, the new Vice Presidents, together with President Salva Kiir will have the onerous task of making the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudanwork.
Apart from political leaders, others in attendance at the retreat, were South Sudan’s ecclesiastical leaders represented under the umbrella organisation, the South Sudan Council of Churches which comprises Catholic and Protestant Churches of that country.
Archbishop John Baptist Odama, the Catholic Archbishop of Gulu in Uganda also preached part of the retreat. The Ugandan prelate is a recipient of several international peace awards and is a long-term advocate for peace in northern Uganda.