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Pope Francis Stuns Social Media Kneeling, Kissing South Sudanese Leaders’ Feet

© REUTERS / Yara NardiPope Francis waves during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy
Pope Francis waves during a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Loreto on the feast of the Annunciation, in Loreto, Italy - Sputnik International
The 82-year-old pope pleaded for peace in a striking gesture during a meeting with leaders from the troubled country that gained independence from neighbouring Sudan in 2011 and then was mired in a violent internal conflict. Following the military takeover in Sudan, concerns are being heard that the fragile peace might be in peril.

Pope Francis knelt and seemingly kissed the feet of leaders of war-torn South Sudan, President Salva Kiir and rebel-turned opposition leader Riek Machar, as he pleaded with them not to let blood flow in their home country during a two-day retreat at the Vatican.

​“I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward", the head of the Catholic Church reportedly said

He warned that there would be fights among them but called on both to keep the arguments inside the office.

“People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts: Remember that with war, all is lost!” the Pope said. 

The 82-year-old pontiff’s move stunned clergymen and visitors as well as netizens from all over the world. Many criticised his kneeling, dubbing it a “new rock bottom".

​Some recalled another “kissing” controversy with the Pope as he seemed to try dodge the faithful’s kissing his ring on one video.

READ MORE: It Was Getting out of Hand: Pope Explains Ring Kissing Controversy

​Others stood up for the elderly pontiff and hailed his humility.

​His call for peace came right after long-time president Omar Bashir was removed from power in neighbouring Sudan. On 11 April, the Sudanese military detained him following months of anti-government demonstrations in the country. Military officials subsequently established a military transitional council to govern the country for two years in the run-up to elections. Media later reported that that Sudanese Defence Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf had been sworn in as the head of the military council.

This raised debates if the coup could impact the fragile peace in South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and descended into a violent conflict, stopped only last September. Overthrown president Bashir was a guarantor of the 2018 peace deal. 

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