Persecution watchdog groups who have campaigned for the release of Christian mother Meriam Ibrahim are celebrating her family's departure from Sudan to Italy, with one calling it an "answered prayer" for the thousands who had signed petitions and offered prayers.
"We are thankful for the Italian government's critical involvement in this case, and for the ACLJ supporters who never ceased to bring attention to Meriam and her family," said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice.
"The ACLJ, in conjunction with nations and organizations worldwide, fought for Meriam and her family their basic religious liberties. Because of the unwavering dedication of the American people, the four are now safe in Italy and hoping to be in the United States soon."
Over 177,000 people had signed an ACLJ petition urging the U.S. government to press for Ibrahim's safe passage to the U.S.
The Christian mother had initially been sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to identify as a Muslim and for marrying Daniel Wani, a Christian Sudanese-American. She was forced to give birth to her second child while in prison, but denied to renounce her Christian faith despite being told it could spare her the death penalty.
Following an international campaign by several watchdog groups, the sentence was overturned, and she was granted her freedom.
Ibrahim was briefly re-arrested in June when attempting to leave Sudan with her family, however, and was given shelter at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum.
On Thursday, the family was finally able to leave the country, after Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli helped arrange their flight and travelled with them from Sudan to Italy.
Only hours after landing in Rome, Ibrahim, Wani and their two young children were welcomed by Pope Francis at the Vatican, who praised the Christian mother for her "courageous witness to perseverance in the Faith" and offered blessings for the family.
Other Christian groups also praised the latest development, with NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson offerings thanks to God for the family's safe journey out of Sudan.
"May the Lord richly bless them as they start a new chapter in their lives. And may He bless those in the world who continue to endure hardships and persecution because of their faith in Him. Let us not forget them," Johnson said.
Open Doors USA, which also petitioned for Ibrahim's release, was thankful for the news but also pointed out that many others remain captive in Sudan and other countries that repress religious freedom.
"The news of Meriam's release is so very heartening and an answer to many prayers worldwide offered up to Jesus on her behalf. The challenge remaining is to eliminate violence and persecution against individuals for their faith," said Dr. David Curry, President/CEO of Open Doors USA.
"Women of Sudan and elsewhere should have the freedom to read the Bible if they so choose and decide for themselves what they believe. Thankfully, Meriam now has that freedom, but sadly the rest of Sudan's female population does not."