New Gabonese leader visits with Pope Benedict


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Vatican City, Dec 10, 2009 / 01:36 pm (CNA).- Ali Bongo Ondimba, the new president of the South African republic of Gabon, paid a cordial visit to Pope Benedict XVI this morning.

The new Gabonese president was inaugurated almost two months ago, on October 16, 2009. He is the first new president in Gabon since the 1960's. His father, the recently deceased president, El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba had ruled the country since his creation of a one-party state in 1968. Though the country adopted a multi-party system in the 1990's, the same president was consistently re-elected.

Gabon is divided into five Catholic dioceses, one archdiocese and an Apostolic Prefecture. The see of the metropolitan is in the country's capital of Libreville.

The country gained its freedom from France in 1960, and all education takes place in French, though many children do not know the language until they begin their education in one of the country's private or public schools. Aside from the state schools, elementary schools are also run by Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims. The country boasts a literacy rate of around 70%.

The Pope's meeting with the Gabonese president touched on the good relations between the Holy See and the south African nation which result from the Framework-Agreement established in 1997. The Pope also emphasize the contribution of Catholics to the Gabonese Republic, and to the "integral progress of the Gabonese people, particularly in the field of education."