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Pope Francis meets Catholic president of Madagascar

Pope Francis poses next to a miniature model of a ship with Madagascar’s President Andry Nirina Rajoelina and his family in the Vatican’s apostolic palace on Aug. 17, 2023. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Aug 17, 2023 / 05:45 am (CNA).

Pope Francis met Thursday with the Catholic president of Madagascar, Andry Nirina Rajoelina. The president was accompanied by his wife of 23 years and three young adult children.

The 49-year-old politician and businessman has led the country of Madagascar in his current term since January 2019. He also led a provisional government in the country from 2009-2014.

According to the Vatican, after a 20-minute private conversation, Pope Francis invited Rajoelina and his family to pray a Hail Mary together before a Marian image he had received from the bishops of Madagascar.

The pope and delegation were also photographed together next to a miniature of a ship, a gift Francis received on the occasion of his 2019 visit to the island country.

Madagascar’s President Andry Nirina Rajoelina gave Pope Francis a solitaire game with marbles made from local Madagascar stones during a meeting at the Vatican Aug. 17, 2023. Vatican Media.

Pope Francis traveled to Madagascar Sept. 6-8, 2019, as part of a larger trip that included the countries of Mozambique and Mauritius.

There are 22 Catholic dioceses in Madagascar, an island country about 250 miles off the coast of East Africa.

Christians, both Protestants and Catholics, make up the majority religion in Madagascar, at estimates between 40 and 80%. Islam and indigenous religions are also practiced. The country’s total population is around 25 million.

After his meeting with Pope Francis, Rajoelina spoke with Vatican diplomat and under-secretary for relations with states Monsignor Mirosław Stanisław Wachowski.

According to a brief statement from the Vatican, the conversation covered the war in Ukraine and its global consequences, crises affecting the continent of Africa, and the contributions of the Catholic Church to Malagasy society.

The two also touched on the respectful bilateral relationship between the Holy See and Madagascar and the possibility of drafting a bilateral agreement.

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