Pope and Burundi Leader Talk Human Rights

Benedict XVI Receives President Pierre Nkurunziza

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI received the president of Burundi in audience Tuesday afternoon, during which the two spoke of the fundamental importance of human rights for a healthy society.

A communiqué issued by the Vatican after the Pope’s meeting with Pierre Nkurunziza reported that the audience took place in an “atmosphere of cordiality,” and that issues of “common interest” were discussed.

The note said they spoke of “the importance of dialogue and respect for human rights as essential elements to build a society oriented to the well-being of all its members.”

The Vatican reported that the Holy Father confirmed “the Church’s commitment to make her contribution to the integral development of the nation of Burundi, in the spiritual, educational, health and socio-humanitarian fields.”
For this reason, “it was hoped that a framework could be agreed that defines and guarantees the juridical status of the Church and her activity in the country,” the communiqué added.

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

Last year, Burundi’s Parliament abolished the death penalty, which commuted all sentences for those on death row to life jail terms.

Nkurunziza had been in Rome to attend last weekend’s World Food Security Summit that was organized by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. It was the president’s first encounter with Benedict XVI.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have Burundi ranked as one of the poorest nations in the world, based on its annual Gross Domestic Product.

The tiny African nation has a land area of 10,747 square miles (roughly the size of the U.S. state of Massachusetts), and is home to some 8.7 million inhabitants. Some 62% are Catholics, and 8%-10% are Muslims.

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