Pope urges South Sudan's leaders not to return to war

Pope Francis kneels to kiss the feet of South Sudan's President Salva Kiir Mayardit at the Vatican on Thursday

Machar said he discussed the extension with President Salva Kiir during a retreat at the Vatican that ended on Thursday with an appeal by Pope Francis to the leaders to respect an armistice and resolve their differences.

Progress in implementing the peace agreement in South Sudan has been "way short" of expectations, the body responsible for monitoring it said on Friday, a day after Pope Francis urged the warring factions to achieve a lasting peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward.

According to DailyMail, the Pope encouraged the rival leaders, President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to strengthen the country's peace process.

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 past year. "There will be many problems, but do not be afraid", he told the leaders, speaking without a text at the end of the meeting. "There will be disagreements among you, but may they take place "in the office" while, in front of your people, you hold hands; in this way, you will be transformed from simple citizens to fathers of the nation". It remains to be seen whether his ouster will imperil the peace deal.

After the retreat, the pope kissed the South Sudanese leaders' feet, saying: "Your people is awaiting your return to your country, the reconciliation of all its members, and a new era of peace and prosperity for all".

"People are wearied, exhausted by past conflicts, remember that with war, all is lost. Tears were flowing from my eyes", she said. Years of civil war followed.

Sudan, a largely Muslim nation, granted the largely Christian south its independence in 2011 after decades of scorched-earth fighting.

"By your gift, Father, may the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes, may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness, so that, relying exclusively on your mercy, we may find our way back to you", he prayed.

"Peace is possible", the pope told the leaders.

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