Panamanian President Invites Pontiff for a Visit

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 11, 2009 ( Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli formally invited Benedict XVI to visit his country while in an audience with the Pontiff at Castel Gandolfo today.

A Vatican communiqué reported that there was a «cordial» conversation between the Pope and Panama’s leader.

Later, Martinelli met with the Holy Father’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as well as the secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

The meetings «provided an opportunity for a fruitful exchange of opinions on questions concerning the current international and regional situation,» the communiqué reported.

There was also a discussion on the situation in Panama, «in particular on the social policies launched by the government, development projects for the country, and collaboration between Church and state with a view to promoting Christian values and the common good.»

Today, Panama has over 3.3 million inhabitants, 85% of whom are Catholics. It was in this country that the first diocese of the American continent — Santa Maria de la Antigua — was established in 1513.

At present, the country is dealing with a project to enlarge the Panama Canal, which began in 2007 and should end in 2014.

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