Pope Francis made a plea for peace in South Sudan while speaking at event sitting side-by-side with the country's president on Friday.
Francis, on a novel ecumenical peace mission to the world’s youngest country, warned South Sudan’s political leaders on Friday that history will judge them harshly if they continue to drag their feet implementing a 2018 peace accord.
Accompanying him to the overwhelmingly Christian country were the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields.
They hope to cast a spotlight on what Francis has called a “forgotten crisis.”
South Sudan gained independence from the majority Muslim Sudan in 2011, but has been beset by civil war and conflict.
The Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian leaders have called for the country’s political leaders to put aside their differences and work for the good of their people.
In his first address on South Sudanese soil, Francis addressed former rivals Kiir and deputy Riek Machar, who were gathered in the garden of the presidential palace.
“Dear President and Vice-Presidents, in the name of God, of the God to whom we prayed together in Rome, of the God who is gentle and humble in heart, the God in whom so many people of this beloved country believe, now is the time to say, 'no more of this,' without ifs or buts. No more bloodshed,” Francis said.
Kiir, Machar and other opposition groups signed the peace agreement in 2018 ending five years of civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
But the deal’s provisions, including the formation of a national unified army, remain largely unimplemented. The delays have forced the postponement of the country’s first presidential election for another two years.
Meanwhile, clashes have continued, including attacks this week in the south that killed 27 people.
Combined with flooding last year, the number of internally displaced people has topped 2 million and the U.N. has warned that humanitarian needs are soaring.
Francis and Welby first announced plans to visit South Sudan in 2017, but security concerns repeatedly thwarted the trip.
In an effort to move the process forward, Francis presided in 2019 over a joint prayer in the Vatican, and famously got down on hands and knees and kissed the feet of South Sudan’s rival leaders, begging them to make peace.