The president of the Sudanese Bishops’ Conference said he believes peace in South Sudan is possible, but the process will take patience and humility from both the leaders of the country the local communities.

Bishop Eduardo Kussala of Tombura-Yambio said the conference is grateful for and encouraged by the pope’s meeting with the leaders of opposing groups in South Sudan.

“We have tried to keep the momentum, to continue to work harder and make sure peace is actually in this country….It has again energized us” to serve the leaders and the people, he told CNA.

In April, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former vice president Riek Machar met with the pope during a retreat at the Vatican. The pope hosted the retreat specifically for the leaders. In an unusual gesture, he kissed their feet as he pled for peace in the nation.

Shortly after South Sudan became an independent country in 2011, it was launched into a five-year civil war, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more. The fighting has primarily taken place between those forces loyal to Kiir and rebel groups led by Machar.

Although these leaders have contributed to the country’s ongoing violence, said Kussala, the pope invited them to pray and spoke “to them from his heart.”

“[It] has humbled us and given us a strong message to our leaders that he is a pope kissing their feet that they should do the same for one another and for the people,” he said.

Kiir and Machar signed a tenuous peace agreement in September 2018, which the country’s Catholic bishops have called “fatally flawed” because it does not address the root causes of the conflict.

However, in his interview with CNA, Kussala also recognized the difficulties facing the peace agreement, stating that there must be patience with the agreement’s timetable.

“Taking the decades and years of mistrust that had existed between these different forces, it’s not an easy thing” to have peace established overnight, he said.

He said the agreement cannot be rushed in a way that creates a poor foundation, because this will only result in violence. He also cautioned that the proper actions must be taken to implement the agreement and warned against unnecessary pressure.

“Because it’s peace work, it must be done peacefully,” he said. “There is no quick fix to peace.”

The bishop also said the Diocese of Tombura-Yambio has been working in peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts.

“We feel that finding local answers, local solutions to the problems emerging among us is the way forward,” he said.

The diocese recently united with other church groups to bring 10,000 young men back from the bush, where they had been fighters, and to prepare the community for reconciliation and forgiveness.

“Many of them are being integrated into the government and are already working in the different organized forces. Others are also being engaged in social and economic activities,” he said.

Kussala emphasized the spiritual aspect of the peace process. He said it is important to see one another with the eyes of faith.

“[We must] believe that we are all equal, we are children of God. We have to forgive each other, that is our strong weapon,” he said.