Asia Bibi, the Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, has said it is a “miracle” that she has been allowed to keep a Rosary, recently given to her by Pope Francis.

“It is the first time in nine years that I have been able to hold a religious object in my cell,” Asia said, according to a March 15 statement from the Italian branch of the charity, Aid to the Church in Need.

The mother of five added that she had received “this gift with devotion and gratitude” and that the “Rosary will be of great consolation for me, just as it comforts me to know that the Holy Father prays for me and thinks of me in these difficult conditions.”

Jailed in June 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010, Asia has been held in one of the three windowless cells on death row in the southern province of Multan in the Punjab Penitentiary. She received the Rosary from her husband Ashiq and daughter Eisham who visited her in prison on Monday.

Ashiq and Eisham had just returned from their trip to Italy with Aid to the Church in Need, during which they were received in private audience by the Holy Father on Feb. 24.

At that meeting, Pope Francis gave Eisham an extra Rosary to bring to her mother and assured her of his prayers. During their visit to Asia in prison on Monday, Eisham relayed the Pope's “touching words” and the “emotional meeting” they had with him, during which Eisham embraced the Pope on behalf of her mother, as Asia had instructed.

The daughter and husband also told Asia about the Feb, 24 event they had attended at the Colosseum, when the historical site was lit up red in memory of the Christian martyrs, many of whom were remembered through the testimony of loved ones (see here the testimony of Rebecca Bitrus, a prisoner with Boko Haram for two years, who said the Rosary saved her from captivity). 

Asia said in the March 15 statement that “international attention to my case is crucial to me” and it is “because of this that I am still alive.” She expressed her thanks to Aid to the Church in Need “not only for me but for all the other victims of the anti-blasphemy law, whose abuse affects religious minorities in particular.”

In comments to the Register March 16, Alessandro Monteduro, Aid to the Church Need’s Italian director, said that “knowing Asia Bibi will be able to pray with a Rosary in her hands after nine years in prison touches all of us.”

He added that he would “never forget” the “affection with which the Holy Father first embraced and kissed Eisham and then specifically gave a Rosary to her, and one for her mother.”

Monteduro, who said Aid to the Church Need’s task is to bring “Faith to where Faith suffers,” said that knowing to have “minimally contributed” to strengthening the faith of a “woman martyred in life” must “push us even more to dedicate our generosity to those who are imprisoned anywhere in the world as a result of the application of a liberticidal law such as the anti-blasphemy law.”

To do this, he stressed the importance of convincing the international community, the media and cultural agencies “that religious freedom is the mother of all freedoms.” Lighting up the Colosseum in red in memory of the blood of the Martyrs was to “signify this,” he said.

Monteduro added that Aid to the Church in Need is trying to combat the “virus of religious fundamentalism” more generally by administering “the vaccine” of supporting persecuted minorities around the word, and is focusing much of its work on Iraq where it has funded projects worth 36 million euro ($44 million) since 2014. After the Colosseum event, it made a further 5 million euro ($6.1 million) available for the Niniveh Reconstruction Committee in the Kurdistan (northern Iraq).

The aim, he said, is “to bring Christianity back to the places where it was born” and to those areas “where governments and the UN do not go.” 

Photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA