, 11 October, 2019 / 3:39 AM
Some six months since Pope Francis showed a “dramatic gesture” of humility by kneeling and kissing the feet of South Sudan leaders, a section of South Sudanese Catholic children living in Kenya have used their encounter with the Apostolic Nuncio to their country in Nairobi to remind the political leaders back home of the Pope Francis’ April 11 act, demanding peace through service that demonstrates love.
“Could you please bring peace to us by serving us with love, the same way you were served by His Holiness Pope Francis kissing your feet? That is what we call love,” South Sudanese children said in a poem recited before the Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Bert van Megen after Holy Mass at the Jesuits’ Hekima College Chaplaincy in Nairobi, Kenya Sunday October 6.
The teenagers who introduced themselves as “South Sudan’s Peace Ambassadors” appealed to the political leaders in South Sudan both in government and opposition to listen to them and heed to their pleas.
“We are not asking you to kiss our feet but to stop war and conflict and put aside your differences,” the children emphasized in their poem.
“We are asking our leaders to serve us with love, the same way they were served by the Holy Father by kissing their feet,” they told hundreds of South Sudanese Catholics, among them priests, women and men religious, seminarians, and laity.
The children further called on the leaders “to bring light and let peace shine” in the world’s youngest nation, echoing the message of Pope Francis to their country’s leadership after participating in a retreat at the Vatican in April.
During the April 11 encounter, Pope Francis pleaded with South Sudan President Salva Kiir, rebel leader Riek Machar, and other political leaders present to cultivate peace saying, “I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward. There will be many problems but they will not overcome us. Resolve your problems.”
It had been hoped that the unprecedented gesture and appeal of Pope Francis would influence the South Sudan political leaders to respect the deadline of the armistice they had previously signed and form a unity government unity in May 2019 within the framework of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS).
However, just over a couple of weeks after the spiritual retreat and the widely publicized and encounter with Pope Francis at the Vatican, South Sudan political leadership decided to postpone the formation of a unity government by six months, from May 12 to November 12, giving room to continued political instability and persistence of violence in some parts of the landlocked East African country.
“We are the children of that land, we are the children of South Sudan,” the South Sudanese Catholic children living in Nairobi said in their last Sunday poem as they entertained their guest, Archbishop van Megen.
Speaking to ACI Africa on the sidelines of the Sunday gathering, Catholic women representative Anna Itwari Felix described the Pope’s gesture of kissing the feet of South Sudan leaders as an “unprecedented act of humility (that) has never happened to anyone before.”
“To-date, we are humbled by the kiss demonstrated by Pope Francis to our leaders in pursuit of justice and peace,” said Mrs. Itwari.
South Sudan youth leader Suzan Lomoro interpreted the kiss by Pope Francis as a sign of the Pontiff’s closeness to South Sudan.
“We are consoled by the closeness of the Church to our suffering during the time of war and on the success of our independent process and accompanying the people of South Sudan and Sudan during the most difficult moments,” Ms Lomoro said referring to the contribution of the Church before and after the independence of South Sudan in 2011.
On his part, Dr. Chol O. Giel who represented the elders at the Sunday event acknowledged the Holy See’s commitment and said, “We have no doubt that the commitment of the Vatican has been even made clearer to all of us by inviting our political leaders to go to the Vatican.”
According to Archbishop van Megen, by kissing the feet of South Sudan political leaders, Pope Francis “was humbling himself in order that the leaders would understand that the only way forward is to humble oneself, to jump over your shadow, to forget about your negativity.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa