Pope Francis has met privately with the Sudanese woman who arrived in Italy after escaping a death sentence in Sudan for refusing to recant her Christian faith.
Tenderly blessing her with his palm on her forehead, the pontiff spoke to Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, who held her baby daughter Maya in her arms. She met with the Pope at his Santa Marta residence in the Vatican, along with her young son Martin and husband Daniel Wani. The family arrived in Italy this morning after finally being given permission to leave Sudan.
The Vatican said Pope Francis had "a very affectionate" meeting with the 27-year-old. Spokesman 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.
Ibrahim was given a reprieve from a death sentence handed down because she refused to convert to Islam. Born to a Christian mother and Muslim father, Ibrahim was raised in her mother's faith, but under Islamic law she is considered a Muslim because of her father's religion, and a court said she had committed the capital offence of apostasy.
Pregnant at the time of her sentencing, Ibrahim gave birth to daughter Maya whilst shackled to the ground in the prison, next to her 18-month-old son Martin who was kept in the cell with her. The case caused international outcry, with thousands calling on the government to release Ibrahim.
Sudan's government is believed to have approved her departure, after several attempts to block her leaving the country after she was given a reprieve from her death sentence last month. The government claimed that travel documents she had attempted to use were forgeries.
Ibrahim, along with her husband and two children were this morning met at Ciampino airport in Rome by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who called it a "day of celebration." Her journey to Europe had been a closely guarded secret, with no prior indication that Italy was involved in her release. Wani has US citizenship and the family is believed to be en-route to the United States.
Ibrahim's father's family, who have been the driving force behind her detention, have filed a lawsuit trying to have her marriage annulled, claiming a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim, like Wani.