Pope Francis received in private audience this afternoon Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Catholic woman who was jailed and sentenced to death by a sharia court in Khartoum for the “apostasy” of marrying a Christian.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters the Pope “thanked Meriam for her witness to the faith,” adding that she and her family “thanked the Pope for his closeness, prayers and his support, and that of the Church.”
Their conversation, which was "very calm and affectionate", also covered the future of women in Sudan. Fr. Lombardi said the Pope wanted their meeting “to be a gesture of closeness to all those who suffer for their faith, lived in difficult situations or with restriction.”
Meriam and her family spent half an hour with Pope Francis, arriving just before 1pm. The conversation took place in private, in the presence of Coptic Father Yohannis Lahzi Gaid, an official in the papal household who served as a translator. After quarter of an hour, the meeting was expanded to include other members of Meriam’s party, according to Sismografo.
The 26 year old doctor and her family arrived aboard an Italian government plane at Rome’s Ciampino airport at around 9.30 this morning. She was accompanied from Khartoum by Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Lapo Pistelli.
Italy’s Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, was among those present to welcome the Ibrahim family on their arrival. "It’s a day of celebration," he said.
Born to a Muslim father and Ethiopian Orthodox mother, Meriam was jailed and in May sentenced to death by a Sudanese court, accused of converting from Islam to Christianity. She was also charged with committing adultery since her marriage to a Christian cannot be recognised under sharia law.
Forced to give birth to a baby girl while in shackles, Meriam has said she never came close to renouncing her faith.
Her treatment caused an international outcry, leading to her eventual release. Meriam and her family now plan to travel to the United States. Her husband Daniel lives part of the year in New Hampshire.
The Holy See has released the following statement:
Pope Francis Receives Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag and her family
This afternoon at 1:00 p.m.. at Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis received Mrs. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, the Sudanese Christian woman who had been imprisoned for the past few months in Sudan. She was accompanied by her husband Daniel Wani and her two young children, Martin who is 18 months old and Maya who was born in prison two months ago.
The family was accompanied by Lapo Pistelli, Italian Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs who had traveled to Sudan yesterday to finalize her release and to accompany Meriam and her family to Italy where they are preparing to emigrate to the United States.
The meeting with Pope Francis lasted for a little less than half an hour and took place in spirit of affection. The Pope thanked Meriam and her family for their courageous witness and constancy of faith. For her part, Meriam expressed gratitude to the Pope for the great support and comfort she received from his prayers and from so many others believers of good will.
Monsignor Yohannis Gaid, personal secretary of the Pope served as interpreter for the meeting. At the end of the meeting, Pope Francis greeted the members of the Italian government who accompanied Meriam and her family on their trip to Italy.
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.