Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman who was spared a death sentence for apostasy and then barred from leaving Sudan, met Pope Francis on Thursday after arriving in Rome to jubilant scenes following intense international efforts to free her.

Ms Ibrahim and her husband Daniel Wani thanked the pontiff for his support and he in turn thanked her for staying true to her Christian faith despite the threat of execution if she did not recant.

The 27-year-old was flown to Italy in a government aircraft and landed at Romes Ciampino Airport accompanied by her family and Italy's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lapo Pistelli, who flew to Sudan to collect her late on Wednesday.


She was released after intense diplomatic negotiations from the Italian government and the Vatican ended an ordeal that lasted almost a year.

Today we are happy, this is a day of celebration, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said as he greeted Ms Ibrahim and her family with his wife Agnese.

This gesture by Sudan is testimony to the friendship between our country and Italys choice to be a protagonist in this event, said Mr Pistelli.

Mr Pistelli first met Ms Ibrahim two weeks ago at the US Embassy in Khartoum where she and her family had sought refuge after a failed attempt to go to the US.

He said her passport was only returned to her at the embassy on Wednesday afternoon and she was informed she could leave with her children.

While we were doing the final procedures she did not even know if she would be able to go, he said.

Mr Pistelli, left Italy at 6.45 pm on Wednesday night to collect Ms Ibrahim and told journalists today she and her two children were in excellent health.

The deputy minister said Pope Francis had expressed his gratitude and joy when he was informed of Ms Ibrahims arrival. The Vatican confirmed that she and her family would meet the pontiff, most likely on Thursday afternoon, before they transferred to the US in a few days.

Ms Ibrahim had been trapped in Sudan since her release from prison where she was awaiting execution by hanging for refusing to renounce Christianity.

She gave birth shackled in a Khartoum jail cell in May after her Muslim father claimed she had abandoned Islam and committed adultery with her Christian husband, as mixed-faith marriages are not recognised in Sudanese courts.

She however insisted that she was raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother after her father left them when she was a young child.

The case drew international outrage and the country's Supreme Court threw out the death sentence in June.

Ms Ibrahim's previous attempt to leave the country with her husband Daniel Wani, an American citizen, days after her release from prison was thwarted by the authorities because they said she had "fake" documents, a claim she denied.

Mr Renzi mentioned Ms Ibrahim's case in his speech to inaugurate Italy's six-month European Union presidency earlier this month.

"If there is no European reaction we cannot feel worthy to call ourselves 'Europe'," Mr Renzi said.

Human rights groups applauded the news that Ms Ibrahim had finally been able to leave Sudan, but highlighted continuing repression of Christians in the North African country.

Olivia Warham, director of Waging Peace, a UK NGO that campaigns against genocide and systematic human rights violations in Sudan, said millions of Sudanese Christians faced daily brutality and ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese regime.

"Three years ago President Bashir made it plain there would be no room for non-Muslims in his Islamist Sudan. He has been good to his word, crushing dissent and systematically killing ethnic and religious minorities. Regular aerial bombardment by the Sudanese armed forces destroys communities and Christian hospitals, forcing people to flee from their fields to hide in the Nuba mountains," she said.

It is shocking that Bashir's ideology of elimination provokes nothing more than the occasional words of regret from the international community, when we should be applying targeted smart sanctions on the architects of these atrocities.