The Republic of South Sudan and the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) have signed a peace declaration in Rome that takes effect from today January 15.

In peace talks in Rome facilitated by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, opposition groups and the South Sudanese government recommitted to cease hostilities, pursue political dialogue, and allow humanitarian aid for the people of South Sudan.

Signers of the “Rome Declaration on the Peace Process in South Sudan” notably included representatives of the opposition groups in SSOMA, who refused to sign an earlier peace agreement in Sept. 12, 2018 in Khartoum, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and National Democratic Movement (NDM) as witnesses.

Dr. Sunday De John, communications director for the opposition alliance, told CNA that he hopes this will pave the way for a long-awaited visit by Pope Francis to South Sudan.

“We have accepted the cessation of hostilities, and therefore there will be no confrontation between the forces of the opposition and that of the government. It means there will be relative security, and would allow the mobility of South Sudanese locally and international visitors, like His Holiness the pope as early as February,” De John said Jan. 13.

“South Sudan is a country that is made up of Christians, notably of the Catholic faith. We believe in His Holiness the pope, and should he come to South Sudan — even if the opposition is unable to be there for security reasons — we will be happy because our country is our symbol,” he said.

Paolo Impagliazzo, Secretary General of the Community of Sant’Egidio, facilitated the peace declaration. He said that faith played an important role in the South Sudan peace talks hosted in Rome Jan. 11-12.

“All of them are Christians, so for them to start a meeting with a prayer was very important. They attended Holy Mass on  Saturday evening with Sant’Egidio … The fact that Pope Francis is so engaged in their country for them is something that they cannot forget,” Impagliazzo told CNA.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in South Sudan’s civil war, which began shortly after South Sudan became an independent country in 2011. The fighting primarily took place between those forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebel groups led by Riek Machar, the former vice president.

The signers of the declaration wrote that they were “humbled by the relentless spiritual and moral appeal for peace, reconciliation and fraternity by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Former Moderator of Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as well as those of the South Sudanese religious leaders for reconciliation, peace and fraternity.”

The two groups also reaffirmed their will to foster political dialogue under the auspices of the Catholic community Sant’Egidio in order to facilitate further reconciliation and stabilization.