Pope meets Christian sentenced to death for faith

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Pope meets Christian sentenced to death for faith
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets in his Santa Marta residence Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, center, with her children Maya in her arms, Martin, and her husband, Daniel Wani, right, at the Vatican, Thursday, July 24, 2014. The Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to recant her Christian faith has arrived in Italy along with her family, including the infant born in prison. Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married her husband, a Christian, in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, disembarks with her children Maya, in her arms, and Martin, accompanied by Italian deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, after landing from Khartoum, at Ciampino's military airport, on the outskirts of Rome, Thursday, July 24, 2014. The Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to recant her Christian faith has arrived in Italy along with her family, including an infant born in prison. An Italian diplomat who accompanied the family from Sudan said Italy leveraged its historic ties within the Horn of Africa region to help win her release. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets in his Santa Marta residence Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, center, with her children Maya in her arms, Martin, and her husband, Daniel Wani, right, at the Vatican, Thursday, July 24, 2014. 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. The Vatican said Pope Francis had "a very affectionate" meeting with Meriam Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children. Vatican spokesman the 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. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets in his Santa Marta residence Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, center, with her children Maya in her arms, Martin, and her husband, Daniel Wani, right, at the Vatican, Thursday, July 24, 2014. 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. The Vatican said Pope Francis had "a very affectionate" meeting with Meriam Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children. Vatican spokesman the 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. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis, left, meets in his Santa Marta residence, Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, center, accompanied by her children Maya in her arms, Martin, and her husband, Daniel Wani, right, at the Vatican, Thursday, July 24, 2014. The Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to recant her Christian faith has arrived in Italy along with her family, including the infant born in prison. Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married her husband, a Christian, in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, with her daughter Maya in her arms, in his Santa Marta residence, at the Vatican, Thursday, July 24, 2014. The Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to recant her Christian faith has arrived in Italy along with her family, including the infant born in prison. Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married her husband, a Christian, in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets in his Santa Marta residence Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, center, with her children Maya in her arms, Martin, and her husband, Daniel Wani, left, at the Vatican, Thursday, July 24, 2014. 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. The Vatican said Pope Francis had "a very affectionate" meeting with Meriam Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children. Vatican spokesman the 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. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis meets Meriam Ibrahim, from Sudan, with her daughter Maya in her arms, in his Santa Marta residence, at the Vatican, Thursday, July 24, 2014. 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. The Vatican said Pope Francis had "a very affectionate" meeting with Meriam Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children. Vatican spokesman the 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. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano)
FILE - In this file image made from an undated video provided Thursday, June 5, 2014, by Al Fajer, a Sudanese nongovernmental organization, Meriam Ibrahim breastfeeds her newborn baby girl that she gave birth to in jail last week, as the NGO visits her in a room at a prison in Khartoum, Sudan. Sudan's official news agency, SUNA, said the Court of Cassation in Khartoum on Monday, June 23, canceled the death sentence against 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim after defense lawyers presented their case. The court ordered her release. (AP Photo/Al Fajer, File)
In this image made from an undated video provided Thursday, June 5, 2014, by Al Fajer, a Sudanese nongovernmental organization, Meriam Ibrahim, sitting next to Martin, her 18-month-old son, holds her newborn baby girl that she gave birth to in jail last week, as the NGO visits her in a room at a prison in Khartoum, Sudan. The Sudanese woman sentenced to death for refusing to recant her Christian faith after allegedly converting from Islam has appealed the sentence, her lawyer said. (AP Photo/Al Fajer)
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ROME (AP) - Pope Francis met privately Thursday with a Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, blessing the woman as she cradled her infant born just weeks ago in prison.

The Vatican characterized the visit with Meriam Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children as "very affectionate."

The 30-minute encounter took place just hours after the family landed at Rome's Ciampino airport, accompanied by an Italian diplomat who helped negotiate her release, and welcomed by Italy's premier, who hailed it as a "day of celebration."

Vatican spokesman the 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 Thursday. Francis frequently calls attention to the suffering of those persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Lombardi said the presence of "their wonderful small children" added to the affectionate tone of the meeting. Ibrahim was presented with a rosary, a gift from the pope.

Ibrahim held her sleeping infant as she stepped off the plane from Sudan, which had blocked her from leaving the country even after the country's highest court overturned her death sentence in June. An Italian diplomat carried her 18-month-old son and they were followed by her husband, Daniel Wani, who is a citizen of the United States and South Sudan.

Ibrahim and her family are expected to spend a few days in Rome before heading to the United States.

Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married her husband, a Christian, in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith.

The sentence was condemned by the United States, the United Nations and Amnesty International, among others, and both the United States and Italy - a strong death penalty opponent with long ties to the Horn of Africa region - worked to win her release.

Sudan's high court threw out her death sentence in June, but she was then blocked from leaving the country by authorities who questioned the validity of her travel documents.

Lapo Pistelli, an Italian diplomat who accompanied the family from Sudan, said Italy was able to leverage its ties within the region. "We had the patience to speak to everyone in a friendly way. This paid off in the end," he said.

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