Juba, 02 February, 2023 / 1:41 pm (ACI Africa).
Pope Francis, as part of his visit to Africa this week, is meeting with the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, this Friday. He will meet the leader for a photograph before retreating to a private setting for a talk.
The 71-year-old Kiir, a Catholic who has served as South Sudan’s first and only president since the country gained independence in 2011, oversees a country that is slightly smaller than Texas, 60% Christian, and severely underdeveloped and racked by ethnic tensions.
Pope Francis and Kiir met in 2019 in a meeting that was extremely memorable because of Pope Francis’ decision to kneel and kiss Kiir’s feet — and those of his rival, former vice president Riek Machar — while begging the leaders to make peace. Kiir and Machar were at the Vatican for a retreat, which Francis hosted specifically for the leaders who have been at war with each other for years. In 2013, a conflict developed between militias led by Machar and troops loyal to Kiir, who are of different tribal ethnicities.
Both sides have been accused of serious atrocities over the course of the conflict, including the raping of women, the killing of civilians, and the recruitment of child soldiers. In addition to Kiir and Machar, Francis kissed the feet of at least two other South Sudanese leaders during the meeting.
Kiir told EWTN News at the time that Pope Francis’ kissing of his feet, which garnered headlines around the world, left him “almost trembling.” He said the moment when the pope displayed such humility was inspiring to him as a Catholic and as the leader of a country.