At the conclusion of a two-day spiritual retreat for the leaders of South Sudan, hosted by Pope Francis with Archbishop Justin Welby in the Vatican, Pope Francis demonstrated his deep desire to see peace restored to the nation of South Sudan by asking permission to kiss the feet of these military men of power. Pope Francis also kissed the feet of the widow of John Garang. In this astonishing act of humility we see the power of love to challenge deep divisions of pride and hate. Please pray for South Sudan at this critical time that the tyranny of fear will be broken and hope restored.
The political leaders (Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the Republic; the Vice-Presidents designate Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, Taban Deng Gai, and Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabio, widow of the Sudanese leader, John Garang), were joined by religious leaders from South Sudan. Archbishop Justin Badi Arama, known to many of the CMS Ireland family, was deeply moved by the retreat.
At the conclusion of his address Pope Francis urged and challenged the signatories to the Addis Peace agreement of 2018:
‘To the three of you who signed the Peace Agreement I ask you as brothers- stay in peace, I am asking you with all my heart. Let us go forward. There will be many problems but they will not overcome us. Go forward, go ahead and resolve the problems. You have begun a process, may it end well. There will be struggles and disagreements among you, let these stay inside the office, but in front of the people – old hands united – so that as simple citizens you will become Fathers of the nation. If you will allow me…I ask with my heart, with my deepest sentiments…’
Pope Francis then slowly knelt before each of the three political rivals and kissed their feet. He then kissed the feet of John Garang’s widow Rebecca De Mabior. The reconciling love we see poured out at Calvary is there for us to claim, it is there for us to demonstrate to a broken warring world.
‘Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.’ Psalm 85:10
The timing of this historic meeting in the Vatican coinciding with the seismic shifts in power taking place in Sudan is very significant. These two countries are bound by history, division and conflict. Let us pray that strongholds of hate and bitterness will be broken and the green shoots of peace flourish, that the fortunes of both nations will be restored. Psalm 85 is a nation’s plea for forgiveness and restoration, holding on to hope in a God who demands justice but longs for reconciliation, who longs to bless with peace and prosperity. As the time of Lent progresses towards Good Friday let us pray with the peoples of both Sudans, ‘Restore us again, God our Saviour’ Psalm 85:4 and give thanks that in Christ crucified we can find forgiveness, healing, restoration and blessing.