Pope urges South Sudanese leaders to form unity government

Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and Rev. Chalmers urge Kiir and Machar to at least form a transitional government.
In this photo taken and released on April 11, 2019 by the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Media, Pope Francis (R) prays with Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (2ndL) during a meeting with South Sudan’s President, South Sudan opposition leaders and a delegation of South Sudan prelates at the Pope’s Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. – Pope Francis on April 11 knelt and kissed the feet of leaders of South Sudan at the end of a two-day retreat to help them solidify a peace agreement. (Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / VATICAN MEDIA” – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS —

South Sudanese leaders have been urged by Pope Francis and two other top Christian clerics to keep to their promise to form a unity government in 2020 that will fully restore peace and bring development to the nation.

In a brief message signed by Pope Francis, worldwide Anglican leader Archbishop Justin Welby, and Rev. John Chalmers, former moderator of the Church of Scotland on Wednesday, the Christian leaders urged President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar to form at least a transitional unity government early next year.

The country, the world’s youngest, is mostly Christian, and a stable peace would allow the pope to visit, something which he has said he hopes to do next year, a Reuters report said.

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In the message, the three religious leaders said they were praying for “a renewed commitment to the path of reconciliation and fraternity”.

Last month, President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar delayed forming a unity government for 100 days beyond the November 12 deadline, which itself was an extension of an original deadline last May.

They agreed to form a transitional unity government if they fail to resolve all their differences before the end of February.

The religious leaders said they wanted to show the political leaders “our spiritual closeness as you strive for a swift implementation of the Peace Agreements”.

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The message is extraordinary because on Christmas day, the pope usually combines peace appeals in his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address.

Last April, weeks before the original deadline, the religious leaders brought Kiir, Machar and other politicians to the Vatican for a retreat.

In a dramatic gesture on the last day of the retreat, Francis knelt at the feet of the previously warring leaders as he urged them not to return to a civil war that ended with a shaky peace deal in 2018.

Sudan, which is predominantly Muslim, and the mainly Christian south fought for decades before South Sudan gained independence in 2011.

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