On February 24, 2018, Pope Francis met in private, for some 40 minutes, with Asia Bibi’s family — the Pakistani Christian sentenced to death –, with her husband, Ashiq Masih and Eisham Ashiq, one of their daughters.
The Pontiff also received Rebecca Bitrus of Nigeria, victim of the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
For this meeting, which took place on the occasion of the International Day of Protest against the Persecution of Christians, organized by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN); the Director of ACN in Italy, Alessandro Monteduro, accompanied them. Speaking into the microphone of “Vatican Media,” Monteduro described the meeting as “extraordinary,” adding that it was focused on “the faith.” ”We prayed with the Holy Father . . . each one of us in our own language,” he specified.
Monteduro continued, “one of the “most beautiful moments” was when ”before leaving for Rome on February 17, Eisham (Asia Bibi’s daughter) met her mother in prison . . . and she said to her: ‘You know, mother, I’m going to Rome. I will also meet with the Pope.” Asia answered her: ‘If you meet with the Pope, embrace him on my behalf.’ “We were parties to that, to the kiss Eisham gave the Holy Father, and which he returned with affection, offering a testimony of closeness, of faith <and> of solidarity.”
Referring to the atmosphere during the meeting, the Director confided: “The intensity, the emotion of the meeting was truly strong . . . No one hid his emotion.”
During the conversations, Pope Francis referred to Asia and Rebecca as “women martyrs,” said Monteduro, “magnificent women martyrs, example for a civilization that fears suffering.”
Christian Asia Bibi — Asia Noreen — has been detained in the Multan prison in Pakistan since June 2009. She was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death, in the first instance, in November 2010, a sentence confirmed by the High Court of Lahore on October 16, 2014. An appeal has been made to the Supreme Court, and presidential grace has been requested.
Two years ago, on April 15, 2015, Ashiq Masih, Asia Bibi’s husband, and one of their daughters, as well as lawyer Joseph Nadeem, attended Pope Francis’ General Audience. On greeting them, at the end of the Audience, Pope Francis said he prayed for Asia Bibi “and for all Christians that are suffering.”