Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who escaped her native country last month after being sentenced to die for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, had a private meeting with Pope Francis in Italy this week.
The Vatican said Pope Francis had "a very affectionate" meeting with 27-year-old Ibrahim, her husband, and their two small children, The Associated Press reported. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pope "thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity" during the half-hour meeting Thursday.
Francis frequently calls attention to the plight of those persecuted for their religious beliefs.
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Earlier in the day, Italian Premier Matteo Renzi welcomed Ibrahim at Rome's Ciampino airport, calling it "a day of celebration."
Ibrahim and her family are expected to spend a few days in Rome before heading to the United States, where her Sudan-born husband has citizenship. The Vatican confirmed that Ibrahim met with the pope, but declined to offer further details.
Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married her husband, a Christian, in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith.
The sentence was condemned by the United States, the United Nations, and Amnesty International, among others, and both the United States and Italy — a strong death penalty opponent with long ties to the Horn of Africa region — worked to win her release.
Sudan's high court threw out her death sentence in June, but she was then blocked from leaving the country by authorities who questioned the validity of her travel documents.
Ibrahim arrived in Italy with her husband Daniel Wani, who is a citizen of both the United States and South Sudan, her 18-month-old son, and an infant born May 27.
Lapo Pistelli, an Italian diplomat who accompanied the family from Sudan, said Italy was able to leverage its ties within the region, and "we had the patience to speak to everyone in a friendly way. This paid off in the end."
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