By Vatican News
A remarkable, spontaneous gesture. Breaking protocol, at the conclusion of his remarks at the end of the spiritual retreat, Pope Francis fell to his knees, kissing the feet of South Sudan’s civil authorities.
“To the three of you who signed the Peace Agreement, I ask you, as a brother, remain in peace”, the Pope said. “I ask you from the heart. Let us move forward. There will be many problems, but don’t be afraid, go forward, resolve the problems”. In impromptu remarks following his address, Pope Francis said, “You have started a process; may it end well. Although struggles will arise, he said, these should stay “within the office”. However in public, he said, “before the people: [keep your] hands united”. In this way, the Pope said, “from simple citizens, you will become Fathers of the Nation”.
In his prepared remarks, the Holy Father reflected on "the gaze of God", and "the gaze of the people". He began his address with the words used by the risen Lord to greet his “disconsolate disciples”, following the resurrection: “Peace be with you!”
“Peace is the first gift that the Lord brought us”, he said, “and the first commitment that leaders of nations must pursue. Peace is the fundamental condition for ensuring the rights of each individual and the integral development of an entire people”.
The gaze of God
The Pope continued by reflecting on the unique nature of the meeting in the Vatican: a “spiritual retreat…marked by interior recollection, trusting prayer, deep reflection and encounters of reconciliation”. Pope Francis defined the purpose of the retreat as one of “standing together before God and discerning His will”. He reminded the civil and ecclesiastical authorities present of their “enormous shared responsibility for the present and future of the people of South Sudan”, and of how God will ask us “to render an account not only of our own lives, but the lives of others as well”.
Every spiritual retreat, said the Pope, should make us feel like we are standing before “the gaze of the Lord…who is able to see the truth in us and to lead us fully to that truth”.
Pope Francis then retold the story of how “Jesus gazed upon Peter”, first telling him to “carry out his plan of salvation for his people”. This, the Pope called a gaze of “election”, or “choosing”.
The second time Jesus gazed on Peter was after Peter had denied the Lord three times, on Holy Thursday. This was the gaze that “touched Peter’s heart and brought about his conversion”, said the Pope.
Finally, after the resurrection, “Jesus once more fixed His gaze on Peter and asked him three times to declare his love”. That was when He again entrusted Peter “with the mission of shepherding His flock”.
“Jesus’ gaze rests, here and now, on each of us”, continued Pope Francis. “It is very important to meet this gaze” and to ask ourselves: “What is my mission and the task that God entrusts to me for the good of His people?”.
Jesus has “put great trust in us by choosing us to be His co-workers in the creation of a more just world”, said the Pope. His gaze penetrates the depths of our hearts: “it loves, transforms, reconciles and unites us”.
The gaze of the people
Pope Francis then spoke of “another gaze”: that of the people, a gaze that “expresses their ardent desire for justice, reconciliation and peace”. The Pope expressed his “spiritual closeness” to refugees and the sick. He remembered “all those who have lost their loved ones and their homes, to families that were separated and never reunited, all the children and the elderly, the women and men who have suffered terribly on account of the conflicts and violence that have spawned so much death, hunger, hurt and tears”. “I think constantly of these suffering souls”, said Pope Francis, “and I pray that the fires of war will finally die down, so that they can return to their homes and live in serenity”.
Peace is possible
“I shall never tire of repeating”, said the Pope, that “peace is possible!” Peace, he said, is a “great gift of God”, but it is also “a supreme duty on the part of those with responsibility for the people”. All of us are called to be peacemakers, he said, to “build peace through dialogue, negotiation and forgiveness”. People are exhausted by conflicts, said Pope Francis. “Remember that with war, all is lost!”
The Pope then referred to the peace agreement signed by the highest political representatives of South Sudan last September. He congratulated the signatories of that document for having “chosen the path of dialogue”, for their “readiness to compromise”, and for their “determination to achieve peace”.
The Pope also praised the “various ecumenical initiatives of the South Sudan Council of Churches on behalf of reconciliation and peace, and care for the poor and the marginalized”. He recalled his recent meeting in the Vatican with the Bishops’ Conference of Sudan and South Sudan during their ad limina visit. The Pope said he was struck by their optimism and concern for the many political and social difficulties in the region.
A final prayer
Pope Francis confirmed his hope and desire “that soon, by God’s grace”, he would be able to visit South Sudan, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The Pope then concluded his meditation with a prayer, in which he asks God the Father: “to touch with the power of the Spirit the depths of every human heart, so that enemies will be open to dialogue, adversaries will join hands and peoples will meet in harmony… May the whole-hearted search for peace resolve disputes”, prayed the Pope, “may love conquer hatred and may revenge be disarmed by forgiveness”.