Pope blesses woman who was sentenced to death over faith
Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman sentenced to death for refusing to denounce her faith in Sudan, met Pope Francis at the Vatican yesterday.
She arrived in Italy to jubilant scenes following intense international efforts to free her.
Ms Ibrahim and her husband, Daniel Wani, personally thanked the pontiff for his support.
The Pope, in turn, thanked her for her courage and staying true to her Christian faith throughout her almost year-long ordeal.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, described the half-hour meeting as "calm and affectionate" and said that the Pope wanted it to be a "gesture of support to all those who suffer for their faith, and living in difficult or restrictive situations".
Pope Francis met the couple at his residence after Ms Ibrahim (27), her husband and their two young children made a surprise arrival at Rome's Ciampino airport early yesterday on an official Italian government aircraft.
She was accompanied by Italy's deputy minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli, who flew to Sudan to collect her late on Wednesday.
"Today we are happy, this is a day of celebration," Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, said as he greeted Ms Ibrahim.
Mr Pistelli first met Ms Ibrahim two weeks ago at the American embassy in Khartoum.
She and her family had sought refuge there after a failed attempt to travel to the US following her release from prison, where she had given birth to a daughter, Maya, while shackled two months ago.
The authorities claimed she was travelling on fake documents, an allegation she denied.
Mr Pistelli said her passport was only returned on Wednesday afternoon and she was informed she could leave.
Elshareef Ali Mohammed, a lawyer for the family, said: "They were so very happy when they knew they would finally be leaving Sudan. It has been incredibly difficult for them all."
He said that news of their departure was kept secret from almost everyone in case it impeded their departure.
"Nobody from the government knew until the plane had taken off, except the minister of foreign affairs. And I expect he told the president," said Mr Elshareef.
"We didn't dare believe it was actually going to happen until the plane took off."
Ms Ibrahim disembarked from the plane carrying Maya in her arms accompanied by her son Martin, 18 months, and her husband, who has US citizenship. They are expected to travel to his home in New Hampshire in the coming days.
She was sentenced to hang for refusing to renounce Christianity after her Muslim father claimed she had abandoned Islam and committed adultery with her Christian husband. Mixed-faith marriages are not recognised in Sudanese courts.
Ms Ibrahim insisted that she was raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother after her father left them when she was a young child.
The case drew international outrage and the death sentence was overturned last month.
Sudan's ambassador to Rome, Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass, said Khartoum had agreed to Ms Ibrahim's departure with her Sudanese passport "after all the accusations against her were withdrawn". (© Daily Telegraph, London)