Onlookers were stunned on Thursday when Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan's rival leaders in an awesome act of humility aimed at promoting peace and to encourage unity among Africa countries torn by war.
Asked if he thought the national unity government could be ready by May 12, he said: "Unfortunately, I have to say "no".
President Salva Kiir and his rival, the former rebel leader Riek Machar, clashed in 2013 leading to a civil war that left 400,000 people dead. "There will be many problems, but do not be afraid", he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting.
Pope Francis kneels to kiss the feet of South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit at the Vatican on Thursday.
"Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us, and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue", he told them.
He also repeated his wish to visit the country along with other religious leaders to reinforce the peace process. "Tears were flowing from my eyes", she said.More news: Trump considered Ivanka for WB
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When South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war, the people were filled with hope, the pope said.
The pontiff said he hoped "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". "But in front of the people, hold hands united". Too many of them have died or been forced from their homes or face starvation because of five years of civil war.
Machar also said he is confident that the new military leadership in Khartoum will continue to be "a strong guarantor" of the fragile South Sudan peace deal.
Others who attended the retreat were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican community, members of the South Sudan Council of Churches, and other Catholic and Presbyterian Church leaders from Africa.
In a report by Reuters, it was gathered that the event played out Thursday, April 11, during the pope's short retreat at the Vatican.