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Pope lends solidarity to those persecuted for their faith

By Sarah Mac Donald - 27 February, 2018

Pope Francis has said he often thinks  of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.

Over the weekend, the Pope met her husband and daughter, as well as Rebecca Bitrus, a Nigerian woman who escaped from Boko Haram after two years in captivity. The meeting was one of a series of events to show solidarity with the victims of religious persecution around the world organised by Aid to the Church in Need.

The Pope reportedly described Asia Bibi and Rebecca Bitrus as “women martyrs: marvellous examples for a civilisation that is so afraid of pain.” Prayers were said at the meeting with Asia Bibi’s daughter Eisham praying in Urdu, while Rebecca Bitrus prayed in Hausa dialect.

Asia Bibi has been held in the Multan prison in Punjab since 2009 after her Muslim coworkers became upset over her use of a drinking cup and later accused her of blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed.

She was convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy law and sentenced to death. In October 2016, she appealed her case to the Pakistan Supreme Court. She is still waiting for the appeal to be heard.

Speaking to Agenzia Fides, Ashiq Masih, Asia Bibi’s husband said, “We believe in Jesus Christ and we turn to Him by putting Asia’s life in his hands. We are sure that the Lord will listen to us, also thanks to the Pope’s prayer and to the prayers of all the faithful in the world.”

He said his wife lives her imprisonment with “great faith and entrusts herself to the Lord every day”. He added that the meeting with the Pope was a privilege and said they had asked him “to pray for us and with us”.

Ashiq Masih was in Rome with his daughter Eisham. After the meeting with the Pope, Eisham revealed that she had told the Pope she was bringing her mother’s love to him. Pope Francis told her, “I think often of your mother and I pray for her.”

Eighteen-year-old Eisham told a reporter that she believes her mother will soon be released from prison, but the family will have to flee Pakistan or they will be killed.

Separately, Rome’s Colosseum was bathed in red light on Saturday night as gesture of solidarity with victims of religious persecution. Archbishop Nunzio Galantino of the Italian Bishops’ Conference told the gathering at the Colosseum that “the aim of blasphemy laws is to crush people who believe differently”.

The European Union has warned Pakistan that the outcome of Asia Bibi’s case will be linked to trade benefits it gives the country.

Rebecca Bitrus’ experiences in Nigeria highlights the suffering caused by the radical Islamic group Boko Haram. During her two years in captivity she was forced to watch her three-year-old son die because she refused to become a Muslim. Later she became pregnant and gave birth to a child following her rape at the hands of a Boko Haram fighter.

Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced an estimated 2.6 million people since its founding in 2002.

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