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Kneeling Pope kisses South Sudanese leaders’ feet during plea for peace (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Kneeling Pope kisses South Sudanese leaders’ feet during plea for peace (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
During a two-day retreat at the Vatican, Pope Francis stunned visiting dignitaries and onlookers alike with a grand gesture of humility by kneeling down to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s formerly warring leaders.

“I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward,” the 82-year-old pontiff told President Salva Kiir and his rival, the former rebel leader Riek Machar on Thursday.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but had been gripped by a bloody civil war since 2013 until a peace deal was finally signed in September of last year. Some 400,000 people were killed and millions displaced in the bitter and bloody conflict.

The spiritual retreat was held only hours after the military in neighboring Sudan removed former strongman President Omar al-Bashir from office after 30 years of ruling with an iron first.

Bashir, along with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, was a guarantor of the deal. It remains to be seen whether his ouster will imperil the peace deal.

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“There will be fights among you, but let these be inside the office,” Pope Francis told the men adding that their “People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts: Remember that with war, all is lost!”

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