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Pope hopes for S. Sudan peace as leaders end Vatican retreat

Pope hopes for S. Sudan peace as leaders end Vatican retreat

"The goal of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will; it is to reflect on our own lives and the common mission God has entrusted to us; to recognise our enormous shared responsibility for the present and future of the people of South Sudan and commit ourselves to be reinvigorated and reconciled to the building up of your nation".

Machar's presence was in doubt until the last minute because aides said that Sudan, which is a guarantor to the September peace deal, has been restricting his movements in capital, Khartoum.

Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the retreat was created to facilitate "encounter and reconciliation, in a spirit of respect and trust", and would bring together those leaders who have "the responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people".

South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of war.

Archbishop Welby preached and Pope Francis delivered a discourse at the conclusion of the retreat on Thursday afternoon, after which participants were to be given a Bible signed by the church leaders and a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Revd John Chalmers, with the message "Seek that which unites". I shall never tire of repeating this: peace is possible!

But they signed a peace agreement a year ago that brought the war to an end.

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Addressing the South Sudanese leaders in his residence, the pope said: "There will be struggles, disagreements among you but keep them within you, inside the office, so to speak, but in front of the people, hold hands united".

Last month, Brussels-based think-tank the International Crisis Group warned the deal risks total collapse before May 12, when the leaders are due to start sharing power.

The leaders should use the opportunity of the Vatican meeting to make a clear, public commitment to holding those responsible for these crimes to account, recognizing this is a key component of lasting peace.

The pope said this meeting was "something altogether special and in some sense unique", as it was neither an ordinary bilateral nor diplomatic meeting between the pope and heads of state, nor an ecumenical initiative involving representatives of different Christian communities. There will be many problems, but don't be afraid, go forward, resolve the problems.

Argentine Pope Francis, whose real name is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has been very vocal on the world stage on issues of inequality to lack of humble leadership among world governments. "In other words, He will ask us to render an account not only of our own lives, but the lives of others as well", the pope said.

The pope called on them to commit themselves to the building of their nation. This way, Francis said, they can "become fathers of the nation".