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28 March 2015
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Sudanese Christian saved from death row meets Pope

The Christian mother who was sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith has been blessed by Pope Francis. 

Francis met privately with Meriam Ibrahim, 27,who was facing a death sentence for refusing to convert to Islam, blessing both her and the baby girl she gave birth to in prison, Maya.

The Pope commended her “great testimony to faith”.

 Mrs Ibrahim, a trained doctor, was sentenced to death for apostasy in May. She was accused by relatives who allegedly wanted to take over her business. 

Sudan's interim penal code forbids Muslims from converting to other religions, a crime punishable by death. 

She was born to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left the family when she was six and she was subsequently brought up Christian by her mother.

Under Sharia law in Sudan, Muslim women cannot marry non-Muslim men. Since Mrs Ibrahim’s father was a Muslim, she is considered to be a Muslim, rendering her marriage to Daniel Wani invalid.

The court in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, had also ordered Ms Ibrahim be given 100 lashes for having sexual relations with her husband.

Amid international outcry Meriam was freed last month, but was initially prevented from leaving the country.

Since June 26 she has been staying at the American embassy in Khartoum, until after a year long ordeal today she was flown to Rome on an Italian state aircraft. 

The Vatican said Pope Francis had “a very affectionate” meeting with Meriam, her husband Daniel and their two small children, Martin and Maya. 

Fr Lombardi said the Pope wanted the meeting to be a "sign of closeness to all those who suffer due to their faith and practice of their faith".

The spokesman added: "It's a gesture that goes beyond the meeting and becomes a symbol.”

He added: 'The Pope thanked Meriam and her family for their courageous witness and constancy of faith. 

Italian Prime Minister Renzi complimented Junior Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, who led the Italian Government's negotiations with Khartoum for the family to be allowed to leave Sudan and accompanied them to Italy. 

Meeting the family at the airport, Mr Renzi said: "Today is a day of celebration."

Mr Pistelli travelled to Sudan yesterday to finalise her release and to accompany Meriam and her family to Rome.

After leaving Khartoum he posted a photo of himself with Mrs Ibrahim and her children on his Facebook account with the words "Mission accomplished”.

The family is preparing to emigrate to the US.