Benedict XVI Greets Leader of Bangladesh

Addresses Challenges Facing South Asian Nation

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2009 ( Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of human rights and the challenges currently facing the South Asian country of Bangladesh during an audience with the nation’s prime minister.

Sheikh Hasina, dressed in a white sari, greeted the Pope at the end of the weekly general audience.

A Vatican communiqué confirmed that meeting was «cordial» and that the two leaders exchanged opinions «concerning the current situation in Bangladesh, the principal challenges facing the country, and the efforts to promote a society that is ever more open to, and respectful of, the human rights of all its citizens.»

«Furthermore,» the note continued, «with reference to the regular contacts between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, attention also focused on the positive and much-appreciated contribution the Catholic Church makes to human promotion and social life in the country, through her activities of education, healthcare and assistance.»

Hasina also met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s secretary of state, who was accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for relations with states.

Hasina, 62, assumed the office of prime minister in January of this year, and is the president of the center-left, secular political party Awami League.

The politician is also the eldest of the five children of  Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first president and founding leader of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has 156 million inhabitants, of which almost 90% are Muslim, and more than 9% are Hindu. Christians account for about .3% of the population.

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