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Pope Francis hosted South Sudanese leaders on “spiritual retreat”


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, joined Francis at the Vatican this week. Reuters reported that the meeting, which included 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.

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