Finally safe with her husband Daniel Wani and the children, Meriam Ibrahim met Pope Francis with a welcome and a private audience worthy of a heroine. The woman who finally made it out of Sudan after it decided to overturn her death sentence met with Pope Francis, speaking to him for over 30 minutes.
Along with Wani, who is an American citizen, Martin her son and baby Maya, Ibrahim spent time with Pope Francis, who thanked Ibrahim for being a “courageous witness to perseverance in the faith” in the face of imminent death. Ibrahim’s case made international headlines when she was arrested in May on charges of apostasy and adultery, crimes punishable by death and lashes according to the Sharia law imposed by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
The Vatican Radio reported that Ibrahim thanked the Pope for the comfort and support she received from his prayers, and the many others whose good will was with her. A statement issued by the Vatican quoted that the gesture from the Pope in meeting with the family was the result of his desire to show closeness, prayer and attention to all those who suffered because of their faith, particularly Christians, who faced religious persecutions and are limited severely when it came to practicing their faith freely. The Pope has often spoken about the plights of Christian communities, particularly of those whose freedom to practice their faith is being threatened, as exemplified by the Sudanese woman previously convicted to death for her faith. In the Middle East and Iraq, conversion to Islam is the only option and most face certain death if they defied Islamic law.
Ibrahim, whose family in Sudan accused her of apostasy and adultery, made international headlines after she was jailed and sentenced to death for marrying a Christian, even though she was pregnant. Ibrahim gave birth to baby Maya in a prison. She was accused of joining the Catholic Church just before she married Wani in 2011. Ibrahim claimed that she was raised by an Orthodox Ethiopian Christian mother, while her Muslim father was absent as she grew up.
Diplomats, human rights activists, politicians and the heads of various countries came to the rescue of Ibrahim, forcing the Sudanese judiciary to overturn the death sentence. The family faced issues with the government again as Ibrahim was arrested a second time in Khartoum on charges of forgery and falsifying information. The family was housed at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, receiving help later that ensured their safe exit from Sudan.
The tired family landed in Rome on Thursday, travelling on an Italian government plane with deputy foreign minister Lapo Pistelli, who flew to Khartoum on Wednesday after he received confirmation that Ibrahim’s travel documents had been approved. Pistelli, who had taken an interest in Ibrahim’s case, thanked the Sudanese authorities for allowing them to travel to Rome. In a televised interview he acknowledged the friendly relations and patience Italy had with countries in the Horn of Africa, and said he was glad the efforts paid off.
Incoming Italian president of the European Union Matteo Renzi mentioned Ibrahim’s case in his inaugural speech. He called for a day of celebration in Rome on Thursday as he discussed the possibility of a united European diplomatic reaction in the future. The woman from Sudan, who also met with Renzi and Pistelli in Rome, was all smiles after her meeting with Pope Francis.
By Rathan Paul Harshavardan