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Pope meets with Sudanese Christian woman who faced death sentence for apostasy

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    July 24, 2014: 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. 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. (AP)

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    July 24, 2014: 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. (AP/L'Osservatore Romano)

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    July 24, 2014: Meriam Ibrahim disembarks with her children Maya, in her arms, and Martin, accompanied by Italian deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, after landing at Ciampino's military airport on the outskirts of Rome. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

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    June 5, 2014: In this file image made from an undated video provided by Al Fajer, a Sudanese nongovernmental organization, Meriam Ibrahim breastfeeds her newborn baby girl as the NGO visits her in a room at a prison in Khartoum, Sudan. (AP)

Pope Francis met privately Thursday with Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who faced a death sentence for refusing to renounce her faith, blessing the woman after she was flown to Italy on an Italian government jet.

The Vatican characterized the visit with 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 and her family are expected to spend a few days in Rome before heading to the United States.

Earlier Thursday, Reuters reported that Italian television broadcast images of Ibrahim and her family arriving in Rome with Italian politician Lapo Pistelli. Pistelli had posted a picture on his Facebook page depicting himself with Ibrahim and her two children. The caption, translated from Italian, read "With Meriam, Maya, Martin and [Ibrahim's husband] Daniel, a few minutes from Rome. Mission accomplished."

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was among those who greeted the plane, calling it "a day of celebration."

Ibrahim had spent more than a month at the American Embassy in Khartoum after a previous attempt to leave Sudan was halted by that country's authorities. They said she had attempted to use false travel documents, a claim Ibrahim denied.

Last month, Sudan's Supreme Court threw out the death sentence Ibrahim had received for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. Ibrahim's father, a Muslim, claimed she had abandoned Islam and committed adultery with her husband Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen who lives in New Hampshire. However, Ibrahim insisted that she had been raised Christian by her Ehiopian Orthodox mother after her father left the family when she was still young.

Pistelli told the Associated Press that Italy had leveraged its historic ties within the Horn of Africa region to help win her release, though the specifics were not immediately clear. Ibrahim's lawyer, Mohaned Mostafa, told Reuters that he had not been aware of her departure.

"I don't know anything about such news but so far the complaint that was filed against Mariam and which prevents her from travelling from Sudan has not been cancelled," he said.

Click for more from The Daily Telegraph.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.