Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman once sentenced to death for refusing to recant her Christian faith, met privately with Pope Francis on Thursday according to reports from ABC News. Ibrahim, 27, her husband Daniel Wani, who is an American citizen, and their two small children’s half hour visit with the Pontiff was described by the Vatican as very affectionate.
The youngest child, Maya, was born in prison just days after Ibrahim’s conviction for apostasy two months ago. Apostasy carries a death sentence in Sudan. The President has imposed Islamic law. The Sudanese government initially blocked Ibrahim from leaving the country, even after their highest court overturned her death sentence this past June.
Francis often calls attention to the suffering of those persecuted for their religious beliefs. The Pope presented Ibrahim with the gift of a rosary. Vatican Radio reported Pope Francis thanked Ms. Ibrahim for her “courageous witness to perseverance in the faith,” in the face of possible death. She thanked him for his prayer and solidarity.
The Vatican said in a statement that with this gesture, “Pope Francis desired to show his closeness, attention and prayer also to all those who suffer for their faith, in particular to Christians who are enduring persecution or limitations imposed upon their religious freedom.” In recent days the Pope has spoken out repeatedly, highlighting the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, particularly in Mosul, Iraq, where they are being threatened with death by Islamic militants unless they convert.
Ibrahim’s father was a Muslim but her mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia. Ibrahim was charged with apostasy when she married Mr. Wani. He is a Christian from southern part of Sudan, however he currently resides in New Hampshire. In many Muslim nations Muslim men can marry outside their faith, but Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims.
The United Nations, Amnesty International, and both the United States and Italy worked to win her release. Lapo Pistelli, an Italian diplomat, described Italy as being able to leverage their ties within the region. He said, "We had the patience to speak to everyone in a friendly way. This paid off in the end."