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Pope Francis to host rival South Sudanese leaders on “spiritual retreat”


Jenny Rockett-Hannah McNeish - VOA-(CC BY-SA 3.0)

John Burger - published on 04/05/19

The meeting is meant to help solidify a faltering peace agreement, which may lead to a papal visit to the troubled country.

Pope Francis reportedly wants to visit South Sudan, but a civil war that has already claimed 400,000 lives is impeding those plans.

Now, the pope has invited the two warring sides to the Vatican for what was dubbed a “spiritual retreat.”

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and the main opposition leader, First Vice President Riek Machar, are expected to join Francis at the Vatican this coming week. Reuters reported that the meeting, which is expected to include South Sudan’s four other vice presidents, is meant to help them solidify a faltering peace agreement ending the civil war in the world’s youngest nation.

South Sudan won its independence from Sudan in 2011, after more than 20 years of civil war with the government of Khartoum, which left approximately 2 and a half million dead.

“We know the pope wants to go there and we know that the situation has improved a little, especially after the agreement was signed, and also because of the good will of the people who are involved the situation,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin told reporters. He said the gathering will be a “moment of spirituality and above all, it will help make them aware of the responsibility that politicians and authorities have.”

All six of the leaders are Christian, as is more than half the population of South Sudan, Reuters said. Sudan is predominantly Muslim.

Reuters explained:

In September the two sides signed a power-sharing deal calling on the main rival factions to assemble, screen and train their respective forces and unify them into a national army before the formation of a unity government next month. That has not happened. The government, which has faced frequent international criticism over corruption and rights abuses, blames a lack of funding from donors. …

Parolin said the pope, who met Kiir at the Vatican on March 16, would attend at least part of the April 10-11 retreat. Last month, the Vatican said the pope had asked aides to resume planning for a visit that was scrapped in 2017 because of security concerns, the wire service said.

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