President Sirisena also thanked his friend, Cardinal Ranjith, for giving him advice

Sri Lanka’s president has praised the work of the Catholic Church in helping the poor and underprivileged.

President Maithripala Sirisena also thanked Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith for his advice in difficult situations.

The president made the remarks in an address to bishops from all over Asia gathered for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference.

“I very much appreciate the work accomplished by the Catholic Church on behalf of the poor in Sri Lanka,” he said.

“In fact, few weeks back I had an opportunity to declare the year 2017 as the Poverty Eradication Year for Sri Lanka. I appreciate the work of the Catholic Church in the promotion of the social and religious life of the people.

“Before I conclude I wish to say thanks to His Eminence, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. Personally he is a friend of mine. I very much appreciate his advice given to me whenever I approach him in difficult situations,” the president said.

Sirisena was elected president in January 2015, just a few days before Pope Francis arrived for a three-day visit.

He has been praised for his efforts at reconciliation with the minority Tamils and has backed some form of devolution. During his visit to Britain David Cameron praised “encouraging steps” under his leadership.

Sirisena is a Buddhist and part of the majority Sinhalese ethnic group.

Attacks by hardline Sinhalese Buddhists on Muslims and Christians are not uncommon in Sri Lanka. In 2014 riots killed four Muslims and displaced 10,000 people.