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Onlookers were stunned on Thursday when Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan’s rival leaders in an amazing act of humility aimed at promoting peace and to encourage unity among Africa countries torn by war. 

The Popes gesture cames at the close of a two-day retreat in the Vatican for the African leaders.

Pope Francis asked South Sudan’s President and opposition leader to proceed with the peace agreement despite growing tension.

Those present observed with amazement as the 82-year-old pope, who suffers from chronic leg pain, knelt with difficulty to kiss the shoes of the leaders and some other persons in the room. He was gently assisted by his aides.

For many, the Pope’s gesture was a first especially to political leaders, even though he usually holds a ritual washing of the feet with prisoners on Holy Thursday.

Below are some photos from the rather extraordinary moment.

In this photo taken and released on April 11, 2019 by the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Media, Pope Francis (R) talks with Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby during a meeting with South Sudan’s President, South Sudan opposition leaders
VATICAN-POPE-SSUDAN-POLITICS-PEACE In this photo taken and released on April 11, 2019 by the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Media, Pope Francis (C) poses with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit (C-L), South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar
In this photo taken and released on April 11, 2019 by the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Media, Pope Francis (R) prays with Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby (2ndL) during a meeting with South Sudan’s President, South Sudan opposition
In this photo taken and released on April 11, 2019 by the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Media, Pope Francis (Bottom) kneels to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s Deputy President Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior (Rebecca Garang) as South

In this photo taken and released on April 11, 2019 by the Vatican Press Office, Vatican Media, Pope Francis (Bottom) kneels to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir

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