South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his rival, the former rebel leader Riek Machar, are meeting at the Vatican on Wednesday for a two-day retreat aimed at reconciliation and prayer.
It’s a diplomatic initiative led by Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The global heads of Protestant and the Catholic Churches invited South Sudan’s political leaders to Rome in an effort to consolidate the fragile peace agreement, signed last September, to end a civil war that has devastated the world’s youngest country. Also attending will be the Rev John Chalmers, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland.
The two are expected to attend the spiritual retreat, which will take place in Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where Pope Francis lives.
In 2013 the two leaders clashed, leading to a civil war that left 400,000 people dead.
The Vatican described the meeting as “a propitious occasion for reflection and prayer… to those who in this moment have the mission and responsibility to work for a future of peace and prosperity for the South Sudanese people”.
The schedule for the politicians is built around informal conversation and prayer. All parties will eat together on Wednesday evening during a communal dinner that will take place in what one official described as “reflective silence”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury will preach on Thursday afternoon before Pope Francis delivers an exhortation for peace.
The participants will then be given a Bible, signed by the religious leaders, with the message: “Seek that which unites. Overcome that which divides.”