Pope Francis has shocked the world as he knelt to kiss the feet of warring South Sudan leaders, during their visit to the Vatican to resolve their disputes on Thursday.
The Pope, in his statement to the leaders of the African country, urged them not to return to a civil war.
He also appealed to President Salva Kiir, his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents to respect a peace agreement they signed and commit to forming a unity government in May.
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“I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward.
“There will be many problems but they will not overcome us. Resolve your problems,” Francis said in improvised remarks.
The leaders appeared to be stunned as the 82-year-old pope, helped by aides, knelt with difficulty to kiss the shoes of the two main opposing leaders and several other people in the room.
The Pope’s actions have been seen as important as a coup on Thursday in the country caused worry over the fragile peace attained after a 5-year civil war.
The Vatican brought together South Sudanese leaders for 24 hours of prayer and preaching inside the pope’s residence in a last ditch attempt to heal bitter divisions a month before the war-ravaged nation is due to set up a unity government.