Pope Francis and Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan have jointly condemned all forms of violence in Nigeria and expressed hope for a rapid return to peaceful coexistence in the country.

The two leaders made the joint statement on Saturday when the Holy Father received the popular African leader and a full delegation of government ministers and officials in the apostolic palace.

“Particular attention was given in the meeting to the protection of the dignity of the human person and his or her fundamental rights, beginning with religious freedom,” a Vatican statement said.

“In this context the joint condemnation of every form of violence was renewed and hope was expressed for a rapid return to peaceful coexistence in the whole country,” it added.

The Islamic jihadist group Boko Haram has carried out numerous atrocities across the country in recent years, often attacking Christians and government targets through a campaign of bombings, shootings and kidnappings. Some estimates say the group’s insurgency has claimed 10,000 lives since 2002.

Also during the talks, the Vatican said emphasis was laid on the “cordial relations” existing between the Holy See and Nigeria. “Appreciation was expressed for the positive contribution offered by the Church to the welfare of the entire country, especially in the areas of education and health care, as well as in promoting dialogue between the various components of society,” the Vatican said.

Finally, an exchange of views took place regarding several issues of regional interest, “with particular reference to the situations of crisis and conflict in central and sub-Saharan Africa."

Also among those attending the audience, which lasted just over 10 minutes, were the President’s wife, Patience, the President's personal chaplain, Nigeria’s foreign minister and the country’s ambassador to the Holy See. No Muslims were in the party, according to a Nigerian official present.

During the exchange of gifts, the Holy Father was presented with a large embroidered rug. The Pope gave the President a large bronze relief, and rosaries to each member of the delegation.  

After the papal audience, President Jonathan met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.