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South Sudan president, rival head to Vatican for spiritual retreat

South Sudan

South Sudanese president Salva Kiir and his main rival Riek Machar are expected to enter a spiritual retreat in the Vatican as part of efforts at achieving a durable peace.

The AFP news portal quoted the Holy See as confirming the latest move to save South Sudan from further security deterioration amid a political crisis.

“In the process, the divided Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, SPLM, political pilgrims would be required to observe two of the seven sacraments; that is repentance and then they would be prayed for as they seek for forgiveness.

“This is consistent with the Catholic and Anglican Communion norms and teachings,” a report confirmed by the Vatican news outlet said. Their retreat according to reports will be shepherded by the Pope.

The current pope in March 2019 received Kiir at the Vatican with an expression of his wish to visit South Sudan two years after his planned trip was cancelled over security considerations.

#BREAKING: South Sudan leaders in 'spiritual retreat' in Vatican next week: Holy See. AFP

— AFP Africa (AFPAfrica) April 3, 2019

During the meeting, Francis “expressed the wish to ascertain the conditions for a possible visit to South Sudan,” a Vatican statement said. It added that he wanted to make the trip as “a sign of closeness to the population and of encouragement for the peace process”.

Oil-producing South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, descended into civil war in December 2013 when a dispute between Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar sparked fighting, often along ethnic lines.

About 400,000 people have been killed, and more than a third of the country’s 12 million people uprooted by the civil war – a conflict punctuated by multiple rounds of mediation followed by renewed bloodshed.

In 2017, Catholic Church leaders in the country said they had expected the pope would visit the capital, Juba, in the autumn of that year. The tentative plans were scrapped because of security concerns.

The original trip was to have lasted only one day for security reasons and the pope was to have flown in after spending a night in another African country.

The pope was to have made the 2017 trip to South Sudan with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the worldwide Anglican communion, in an effort to promote unity in the mostly Christian country.

The Pope last week concluded a two-day visit to Morocco with a triple trip planned for September 2019. He will visit Madagascar, Mozambique and Mauritius between 4 – 10 September.

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