- July 24, 2014
- By Josephine McKenna / Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY (RNS)—Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman spared a death sentence for apostasy in Sudan, met Pope Francis at the Vatican July 24 after she was flown to Rome by the Italian government following a vigorous international campaign to free her.
Ibrahim, 27, was accompanied by her husband, Daniel Wani, and their two young children when she met the pope for nearly half an hour at his Santa Marta residence.
The audience was arranged only hours after she disembarked at Rome’s Ciampino Airport with her family on an official Italian aircraft. She was smiling as she carried baby Maya, who was born just two months ago as Ibrahim was shackled in prison.
The pope thanked her for her courage and loyalty to her Christian faith despite facing threats of execution in an ordeal that lasted nearly a year.
The Vatican’s chief spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said the pope wanted the meeting to be a “gesture of support for all those who suffer for their faith, or living in situations of difficulty or restraint.”
One day earlier, Ibrahim’s case was the subject of a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers sought to highlight her plight and Sudan’s poor record on religious freedom.
Campaign for her release
The Washington-based Family Research Council, the Christian lobby group that has led the U.S. campaign and gathered more than 53,000 signatures in support, welcomed Ibrahim’s release.
“We celebrate Meriam Ibrahim and her family’s escape to freedom,” FRC President Tony Perkins said. “It is our hope and prayer that Meriam and her family will now enjoy the liberty to practice their Christian faith without government interference or persecution.”
Lapo Pistelli, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, flew to Khartoum to collect Ibrahim and accompany the family on the flight to Italy.
Family going on to the U.S.
The family is expected to leave Italy for the United States within days.
Ibrahim had been trapped in Sudan since her release from prison, where she was awaiting execution for refusing to renounce Christianity. Even though she is a Christian, Sudan considers her a Muslim because her father is Muslim.
She gave birth in chains in a Khartoum jail cell in May after her father claimed she had abandoned Islam and committed adultery with her Christian husband as mixed-faith marriages are considered illegal.
The country’s Supreme Court threw out the death sentence in June.