Pope Francis has kissed the feet of South Sudan's previously warring leaders during a two-day spiritual retreat at the Vatican.
"I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward. There will be many problems but they will not overcome us. Resolve your problems," the 82-year-old pontiff said after he performed the rare gesture.The leaders appeared to be stunned as the 82-year-old pope, who suffers from chronic leg pain, was helped by aides as he knelt with difficulty to kiss the shoes of the two main opposing leaders and several other people in the room.
His appeal was made even more pressing as anxiety grew in South Sudan that Thursday's coup in neighbouring Sudan might put at risk the fragile peace deal that ended South Sudan's brutal five-year civil war.
The Vatican brought together South Sudanese leaders for 24 hours of prayer and preaching inside the pope's residence in an attempt to heal bitter divisions before the country is due to set up a unity government.
President Salva Kiir and his rival, the former rebel leader Riek Machar, clashed in 2013 leading to a civil war that left 400,000 people dead.
But they signed a peace agreement last year that brought the war to an end.