Why Pope Francis kissed feet of South Sudan rivals Machar, Kiir: Priest explains

Pope kisses feet of South Sudan leaders, urging them to keep the peace - Photo/...
Pope kisses feet of South Sudan leaders, urging them to keep the peace - Photo/REUTERS

Pope Francis, in a dramatic gesture after an unprecedented retreat at the Vatican, knelt to kiss the feet of South Sudan’s previously warring leaders on Thursday.

The 82-year-old pope, helped by aides, knelt with difficulty to kiss the shoes of President Salva Kiir, his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar, and three other vice presidents.

Reuters reports that the two main opposing leaders and several other people in the room, appeared to be stunned by the unexpected gesture.

According to Fr Wawerũ Gĩchũkĩ, a Catholic Priest based in France, kissing of feet is a gesture normally used on Holy Thursday which has several symbolisms; the two being humility and rebirth.

Below is a detailed explanation from Fr. Gĩchũkĩ’:

“I just learnt recently that the first part of the human body that grows is the feet. All other organs develop from it. It is the root at implantation in the uterus. Missing their feet would be the greatest prayer for the rebirth of Southern Sudan through them.

The legs are the contacts between man and the Earth from which he came. John Paul II used to kiss the ground Wherever he went to show his union with the people and the “God” of the place he was visiting.

You may remember in the Gospel, when Jesus sent his disciples, he required of them to shake off the dust from their feet if they are not welcome so that they may not have anything to do with those people. That would be the highest curse.

Land (or soil) is a vital thematic in the bible with at least 2604 citations. The gods of the people and their Ancestors are thought to dwell in the shrines of their land.

Wherever the soil or the Land of the people is their “gods” or God is with them. Remember Naaman pleading with Elisha to allow him carry soil after his healing to go and build an Altar for the God of Elisha, the God of the Land from which he was healed?

I think, because am not the Vatican spokesperson, the Pope was telling them; I plead with you, in the name of God and the God of your Ancestors….

I plead with you in the name of those victims of war whose blood cry up to God together with that of Abel from the lands where your feet have stepped to humble yourselves for a moment and pave way for peace.

I am sure, this is a “Sacramental” sign, if the word is not exaggerated; to help call these warring leaders enter into their conscience (like the prodigal son) to put the lives of others first.

I think the Pope would not have had a better symbol for them than this. He may have celebrated the Eucharist for them but am not sure it is the first time they commune at Mass. If they have a conscience that is living; they will open up for peace.

This is my own thought about it. I wait to read from Vatican News on its explanation….

Fr Wawerũ Gĩchũkĩ is a Catholic Priest, an Augustinian of the Assumption based in Paris, France. He is a Kenyan Priest from Nyahururu Diocese.


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