"We hope that the new system will also focus on the agreement, ensuring that it will be implemented", said opposition leader Machar, who attended an evening prayer vigil for peace, held at Rome's church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
"The goal of this retreat is for us to stand together before God and to discern his will; it is to reflect on our own lives and the common mission God has entrusted to us; to recognise our enormous shared responsibility for the present and future of the people of South Sudan and commit ourselves to be reinvigorated and reconciled to the building up of your nation".
Although few diplomats expected Kiir and Machar to meet the May 12 deadline set in last September's peace deal, the delay will cause further unease among the 12 million strong South Sudanese population. The group met for two days on Wednesday to "reflect and pray" for mission, peace, and prosperity for the South Sudanese people, a statement from the interim director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, said.
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A six-month extension was needed to unify and deploy defence forces, demilitarise the capital Juba and other cities, and agree on devolution of power and the release of political prisoners, he said.
"We are all aware that this meeting is something altogether special and in some sense unique, since it is neither an ordinary bilateral or diplomatic meeting between the Pope and Heads of State, nor an ecumenical initiative involving representatives of different Christian communities", Pope Francis said. We have clearly heard the cry of the poor and the needy; it rises up to heaven, to the very heart of God our Father, who desires to grant them justice and peace.
"The delay is inevitable, as there is no real alternative". Following the military takeover in Sudan, concerns are being heard that the fragile peace might be in peril.
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"I don't think it's cynical, it's practical. If a delay makes Machar feel more secure and ends the war, it will be worth it", Peter Martell, an author of a history of South Sudan, told Reuters.
Machar was Kiir's vice president until a falling out in 2013 which kickstarted a civil war just two years after independence from Sudan.
Pope Francis on Thursday got on his hands and knees before the leaders of South Sudan's government and its opposition, kissing their shoes, an act that baffled majority of Kenyans. This is a completely unrealistic vision, but that never stopped the Popes from trying, and Pope Francis perhaps the more than most.
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