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Christian woman once condemned to death in Sudan for her faith meets Pope Francis

A handout photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, shows Pope Francis meeting Meriam Ibrahim, with her daughter Maya in her arms. (L'Osservatore Romano)

A Christian woman who was once sentenced to death in Sudan because of her religion met Pope Francis on Thursday, hours after finally fleeing Sudan for Italy.

Meriam Ibrahim, 27, arrived in Rome with her family on Thursday. The Italian Foreign Ministry told CNN that she would stay a "short time" in the country before heading to the United States, where her family plans to settle.

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Sudanese law prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. Because Ibrahim's father was a Muslim, she's considered a Muslim by the state. Under Sudanese law, her marriage to a Christian American national of Sudanese origin was considered apostasy and punishable by death in the country, as the Associated Press explained.

That's despite the fact that Ibrahim says her religious upbringing came primarily from her Christian mother.

Although she was eventually freed from death row by the country's high court, Sudan officials detained her and her family again in June as she tried to leave the country. This time, officials charged her with forging documents, further delaying their departure for the United States.

Since that two-day detention, Ibrahim and her family waited in the U.S. embassy for an opportunity to leave.

Ibrahim and the pope met for about a half-hour on Thursday. Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi described the meeting as "very serene and affectionate," adding that the pope thanked her for her "courageous witness to perseverance in the Faith." Ibrahim, in return, thanked the pope for his prayers. The pope gave Ibrahim a few gifts, including a rosary.

A handout photo released by the Osservatore Romano and taken on 24 July, 2014 shows Pope Francis speaking with Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim and her children Maya and Martin, as her husband Daniel Wani looks on during a private audience at the Vatican.
Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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