Pope Francis met privately with Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, blessing the woman as she cradled her infant daughter born just weeks before in prison.
The Vatican described the Pope's meeting with Meriam Ibrahim, 27, her husband and their two small children as "very affectionate". The Holy See, the Italian government and many international organisations worked for her release.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said the pope "thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity".
Ibrahim held her sleeping infant as she stepped off the plane from Sudan, which had initially blocked her from leaving the country even after the country's highest court overturned her death sentence in June. An Italian diplomat carried her 18-month-old son, while her husband, Daniel Wani, who is disabled, joined them in a wheelchair.
Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married Wani, a Christian from southern Sudan, in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith.
Sudan's high court overturned her death sentence in June, but she was then blocked from leaving the country for over a month by authorities who questioned the validity of her travel documents.
Lapo Pistelli, an Italian diplomat who accompanied the family from Sudan, said Italy was able to leverage its ties within the region. "We had the patience to speak to everyone in a friendly way. This paid off in the end," he said.