WASHINGTON, July 26, 2014 – On her way to the United States, Meriam Ibrahim stopped in Rome, where she met with Pope Francis. The Pontiff met with the family Thursday along with Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli. Pistelli participated in negotiations with the Government of Sudan that ultimately allowed the family to leave the country.
“We will begin a new life,” Ibrahim told Antonella Napoli, head of Italians for Darfur, an Italy-based human rights organization, according to the daily La Repubblica.
Ibrahim is a Christian and a trained medical doctor who was incarcerated in Sudan after refusing to convert to Islam. Ibrahim, who was 8 months pregnant when she was jailed, left in a small cell in chains with her toddler son, became a face for Christians persecuted by Islamic groups that demand total acquiescence to the religion and deny the right for religious freedom.
Ibrahim’s crime was marrying a Christian. Authorities told Ibrahim she would be freed if she accepted Islam, but she told the court she would never apostatize from her Christian faith.
Pope Francis meeting with the family, and his blessings, show ”his closeness, concern and prayers” for all those who suffer for their faith, and especially for Christians who suffer persecution or restrictions on their religious freedom.
The Vatican released a photo of the Pope offering his blessing to Ibrahim, seen in the photo holding her infant daughter who was born while Ibrahim was incarcerated.
“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.”
With Ibrahim was her husband Daniel Wani, who has Sudanese-American citizenship, son Martin and daughter Maya, born while the Christian was incarcerated. An alleged brother turned Ibrahim in to authorities, claiming that she was a Muslim. The basis for the claim was that her father, whom Ibrahim had not seen since the age of six, was a Muslim.
Ibrahim denied any relationship to the man who claimed to be her brother.
The Sudan government was condemned by United States, the United Nations and Amnesty International, among others, propelling and international campaign to save her life, overturn the sentences and assure her release from Sudan.
International pressure, including the outcry from the media and social media, appears to have succeeded in pushing the Sudanese government to overturn the sentence of death and ‘100 lashes.’ Both the United States and Italy worked to win her release.
The family was then, however, continually detained and blocked from leaving the country by Sudanese officials who questioned the validity of her travel documents.
Ibrahim then sought refuge in the American Embassy.
Pistelli said in talks with the Sudanese Foreign Ministry he was told that the Khartoum government was considering “a rethink” of their penal code and that the current law on apostasy could be “modified or deleted.”
The family will settle in New Hampshire.
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