Pope Francis Meets Sudanese Woman Who Was Spared Death for Apostasy (PHOTOS)

By Esther Tanquintic-Misa
July 25, 2014 1:13 PM EST

Pope Francis Meets Sudanese Woman Who Was Spared Death for Apostasy (PHOTOS)

Pope Francis was every inch visibly moved when he met on Thursday Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith even as a death sentence loomed over her head.

Ibrahim was sentenced to death for apostasy in May because she married an American-Sudanese Christian man. Moreover, she was due to receive 100 lashes for adultery, since Sudan never recognised her 2011 marriage as legal.

Father Federico Lombardi, the head of the Vatican press office, described the meeting with Pope Francis and Ibrahim as "very serene and affectionate."

The Vatican released a photograph (here), showing Francis touching Ibrahim's bare head. Dressed in black, Ibrahim was seen holding baby Maya, who was dressed in white.

"With this gesture the pope wished also to show his closeness, attention and prayer for all those who suffer because of their faith and in particular Christians who suffer persecution or restriction to their freedom of religion."

"The pope thanked Meriam and her family for their courageous witness of perseverance in the faith," the statement said. "Meriam gave thanks for the great support and comfort which she received from the prayers of the pope and of many other people who believe and are of good will."

Fr Lombardi said Ibrahim thanked the Pope for his prayers, as they provided great support and encouragement during her times of great trial and anguish. Ibrahim was 8 months pregnant the time of her sentencing. She gave birth in prison while her legs were in chains.

Her plight, condemned by the United States, the United Nations and Amnesty International, among others, sparked an international campaign to save her life. Both the United States and Italy worked to win her release.

Born to a Muslim father and a mother who recognises the Orthodox Christian faith, Ibrahim was given a chance to renounce Christianity to save herself, but refused, claiming she never recognised the Muslim faith ever since a child.

The highest court of Sudan overturned her death sentence in June.

Ibrahim and her family's flight to Rome was accompanied by Lapo Pistelli, Italy's deputy foreign minister.

"Today is a day of celebration," Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said as he greeted Ibrahim.

Immediately upon her arrival on Italian soil, Amnesty International tweeted: "Safe at last. #MeriamIbrahim and her family have left #Sudan and have landed in Rome."

The Independent said Ibrahim's family would be staying in Italy for a few days before again departing for the United States this time to join the rest of the family.

"Meriam will be the guest of the Government for a couple of days, a time to recover," Pistelli said.

Video of the moving meeting here.

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