I am not Catholic, but what I love about this humble Pope shines through in these photos – the Pope, the revered leader of the Christian world, is standing, while the family sits in his presence. His loving actions speak loudly. You can see all the photos on AOL News by clicking here.
ROME (AP) – Pope Francis met privately Thursday with a Sudanese woman who refused to recant her Christian faith in the face of a death sentence, blessing the woman as she cradled her infant born just weeks ago in prison.
The Vatican characterized the visit with Meriam 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 held her sleeping infant as she stepped off the plane from Sudan, which had 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 and they were followed by her husband, Daniel Wani, who is a citizen of the United States and South Sudan.
Ibrahim and her family are expected to spend a few days in Rome before heading to the United States.
Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but whose mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. She married her husband, a Christian, 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.
The sentence was condemned by the United States, the United Nations and Amnesty International, among others, and both the United States and Italy – a strong death penalty opponent with long ties to the Horn of Africa region – worked to win her release.
Sudan’s high court threw out her death sentence in June, but she was then blocked from leaving the country 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.
From the Kuwait Times:
Sudanese woman may face death for choosing Christianity over Islam
KHARTOUM: A Sudanese court gave a 27- year-old woman until today to abandon her newly adopted Christian faith and return to Islam or face a death sentence, judicial sources said on Monday. Mariam Yahya Ibrahim was charged with apostasy as well as adultery for marrying a Christian man, something prohibited for Muslim women to do and which makes the marriage void. The final ruling will be announced today.
Ibrahim’s case was the first of its kind to be heard in Sudan. Young Sudanese university students have mounted a series of protests near Khartoum University in recent weeks asking for an end to human rights abuses, more freedoms and better social and economic conditions.
The authorities decided on Sunday to close the university indefinitely. Western embassies and Sudanese activists sharply condemned the accusations and called on the Sudanese Islamist-led government to respect freedom of faith. “The details of this case expose the regime’s blatant interference in the personal life of Sudanese citizens,” Sudan Change Now Movement, a youth group, said in a statement.
President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir’s government is facing a huge economic and political challenge after the 2011 secession of South Sudan, which was Sudan’s main source of oil. A decision by Bashir last year to cut subsidies and impose austerity measures prompted violent protests in which dozens were killed and hundreds were injured. — Reuters
Thank you, John Mueller, for this fascinating article from Science NOW:
Middle Eastern Virus More Widespread Than Thought
It’s called Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, after the region where almost all the patients have been reported. But the name may turn out to be a misnomer. A new study has found the virus in camels from Sudan and Ethiopia, suggesting that Africa, too, harbors the pathogen. That means MERS may sicken more humans than previously thought—and perhaps be more likely to trigger a pandemic.
MERS has sickened 183 people and killed 80, most of them in Saudi Arabia. A couple of cases have occurred in countries outside the region, such as France and the United Kingdom, but those clusters all started with a patient who had traveled to the Middle East before falling ill.
Scientists have uncovered more and more evidence implicating camels in the spread of the disease. They found that a large percentage of camels in the Middle East have antibodies against MERS in their blood, while other animals, such as goats and sheep, do not. Researchers have also isolated MERS virus RNA from nose swabs of camels in Qatar, and earlier this week, they showed that the virus has circulated in Saudi Arabian camels for at least 2 decades.
Malik Peiris, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Hong Kong, and colleagues expanded the search to Africa. In a paper published last year, they showed that camels in Egypt carried antibodies against MERS. For the new study, they took samples from four abattoirs around Egypt; again they found antibodies against MERS in the blood of 48 out of 52 camels they tested. But the most interesting results came from taking nose swabs from 110 camels: They found MERS RNA in four animals that had been shipped in from Sudan and Ethiopia.
Peiris cautions that it is unclear whether the infected camels picked up the virus in Sudan and Ethiopia or on their final journey in Egypt. Abattoirs could help spread MERS just like live poultry markets do for influenza, he says. “You cannot point the finger exactly at where those viruses came from,” he says. “But I would be very surprised if you do not find the virus in large parts of Africa.”
If so, that changes the picture of MERS considerably. No human MERS cases have been reported from Egypt or anywhere else in Africa, but if camels are infected, they may well occur, says Marion Koopmans, an infectious disease researcher at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “It would be important to look systematically into that,” she writes in an e-mail. “Health authorities really need to test patients with severe pneumonia all across Africa for MERS,” Peiris says.
The researchers were able to sequence the virus of one of the camels almost completely, and it is more than 99% identical with viruses found in people. “I would be very surprised if this virus cannot infect humans,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn in Germany. But the virus also shows a few intriguing differences from known camel samples, he says. “We have to analyze this carefully in the next few days, but it looks like this sequence broadens the viral repertoire found in camels,” he says. If the viruses found in camels show more genetic variation than those isolated from humans, that is further strong evidence that camels are infecting humans and not the other way around.
Anthony Mounts, the point person for MERS at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, says that it is very likely that human MERS cases occur in Africa. “Wherever we find [infected] camels, there is a good chance we’ll find [human] cases if we look closely,” he says. And humans may be exposed to camels in Africa much more often than in the Middle East: There were about 260,000 camels in Saudi Arabia in 2012, but almost a million in Ethiopia and 4.8 million in Sudan, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. The more human cases there are, the higher the risk that the virus will one day learn how to become easily transmissible between people, which could set off a pandemic.
The researchers also looked at the blood of 179 people working at the camel abattoirs for antibodies against MERS virus, but found none. That shows that the virus is only rarely successful in infecting human beings, Peiris says. “What we need to find out now is the reason for these rare transmissions.”
God willing, in life, people cross paths and share their stories. I told you about Manyang, how he visited us near Christmas in 2012 and how his story changed our lives. Now, when we hear stories of the South Sudan, it is immediate, it is real, because we know the story of a young boy grown to be a very fine man, who survived the chaos and horrors of the janjaweed invasions and tribal conflicts before his country attained nationhood.
I recently wrote to Manyang, hoping he is still alive. It was that basic. I asked him, if he could, just to let us know he was alive, and that whether he could respond or not, our prayers were with him, for him, his family and his country.
This morning, by the grace of God, I received this wonderful response. Please, join your prayers with ours for Manyang/David, and his country, South Sudan, for peace, safety and prosperity, for justice and equitable distribution of resources.
I am glad to hear from you again. I have been talking of the nice people I was able to meet in Pensacola. Whenever, I talk about these people you are the first people I talk about. I still remember the nice dinner we had in your house.
I think God touched you to worry about my safety. You might have heard from news report the critical condition my country – South Sudan is going through. It is just like the story of my childhood to many other children now.
A political row in the ruling party here, turned violent in Juba, the capital of this country on December 15, 2013. Heavy artillary were fired and sporadic gunfire broke out in most part of the city. it was a genesis of another war which is now going on. Thousands of people were killed only in Juba.
I was in Bor, the captal of Jonglei State, about 125 miles north of Juba. The violent in Juba quickly spread to us in Bor and I was forced to flee to the bush with my family and the rest of the civil population as the town was quickly seized by anti-government forces. I carried my back on my head, walk long distant and drink dirty water again and eat grains when I was in the bush for seven days.
(This is a screenshot from Google Maps; Bor is the “A” north of Juba)
(These are photos from Manyang’s BBC blog, referenced below. Please go there to read more in his own words about the terrors of the South Sudan chaos.)
The government forces recaptured the town and we returned to the town. Many more people were killed and bodies were lying everywhere and there was a terrible smell. The rebels killed everyone they found in the town including old women, lame, deaf and all vulnerable people. And I was wounded in the upper left arm by a stray bullet of soldiers celebrating. The wound has healed and I am fine now.
It did not take long for the rebel to recaptured the town of goverment forces for a second time. And I was force to flee, this time cross the River Nile by boat to a makeshift camp across the river. This was where I got an access to go to Juba which was abit calm at the time. I am now in Juba staying in fear, not knowing where else to go.
God was speaking to you those conditions I was in in December and part of January. We spent Christmas and New Year Day on the run. I am glad for your prayers were able to lead me out of that mess. I still have hope that your prayers will continue to press political leaders to reach a peaceful solution to this crisis.
I have a live blog where I am sharing my bush experiences. You may have a look.
Share my message with the rest of the great people of Pensacola. My heart is always there with you.
I have fellow students who consider doubt “double-mindedness” and yet today, we have the Feast Day of Saint Thomas, the Apostle who doubted that Jesus had risen until he could touch his wound. His reaction – “My Lord and My God!” is the reaction of a searcher.
Doubt doesn’t imply lack of belief; doubt is hope that looks for evidence. A doubter is a person who is seeking; my greater concern is those who treat their beliefs with complacency – lacking self-examination – or the worst, indifference.
Jesus chose those who will follow him specifically. He chose St. Thomas for a reason, knowing how deeply skepticism runs in our hearts, and knowing there is no belief so deep as that of one who has sought and found.
SATURDAY, December 21 Saint Thomas the Apostle Ember Day
John 20:28. Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Today the church remembers Saint Thomas, often called Doubting Thomas. It seems to me he has gotten a bad reputation for doing something that I actually admire. Thomas had questions—and he dared to ask them. If I were creating his nickname, I’d call him “Good Question Thomas.” Doubt is the companion of faith, and it’s time for doubt to come out from under the carpet.
You see, I think every thoughtful Christian has moments of wondering about faith or God’s place in our lives. Alas, we too often keep quiet about our uncertainties, suffering with them alone. But there is great value to sharing our questions and our struggles. When that happens, a community can share them together and inspire one another. Every time I have shared a doubt or question with another, it has been a blessing.
When we raise our questions with sincerity, we are opening ourselves for God to enter our minds. Like Thomas, we might move past doubt to a place of confident faith. “My Lord and my God!”
Today the church prays for the diocese of Yirol, in the South Sudan:
We don’t always see the timeliness of our prayers, but as we pray for Yei, in the South Sudan, we pray with increased vigor, as the country faces unrest and internal turbulence.
We pray for our friend David, and all the people of South Sudan who have suffered so much for so long. The Lord has blessed them with oil, let them use their resources wisely, for the greater good, and may they enjoy the wealth of their nation in peace with one another.
A year ago, we had an extraordinary experience. We often entertain delegates visiting from other countries, and this time we had three African journalists, and, strictly by chance, they all turned out to be Christian. Most of our gatherings are strictly ecumenical, but these were joyful, praying Christians, and the evening took a turn we never anticipated.
“So how did you find Jesus?” one woman asked David, from the newest country in the world, South Sudan. Inside, I was shocked, and when I am shocked, my tendency is to laugh, I don’t know why, it is just the way I am wired. Every culture is so different. In the South, people might ask that of one another, particularly if you worship in a fundamental sect, but our sect is more formal, and to inquire into another’s spiritual life can be perceived as intrusive.
David, however, was not taken aback. “It’s a long story,” he said, and we all settled into comfortable chairs to listen better. It was Christmas, the decorations were up, the lights all twinkling and we had eaten. A good time for a story.
It was a long story. It started with a little boy in a happy family, who one day was told to run! Run! Run into the forest and hide! The riders were coming! His family grabbed a very few things and ran.
His family ran for years. His family ran into forests, across borders, into dry arid spaces. Sometimes some of the children would get separated from their parents for a while, but they would keep asking, and eventually meet up again, only to face separation again. Their whole lives were running, from the Janjaween, from border police, from robbers.
At one point, he and a brother stayed in a church, and a priest taught them about Jesus. Simple stories, simple songs, and he drew letters and numbers in the dirt – that was his early schooling. It was a haven of peace for him.
Many years later, the family was reunited in their village in the new country of South Sudan. Miraculously, every member of his family survived, indeed, most of his village survived. They had maintained lines of communication through all those years of running and separation, and were so thankful. Most of all, now, they were thankful – they had a church in their village. David had learned to love learning, and had completed his education and had found a wonderful job.
“I don’t know the book like you do,” he told us, “I only know it like a little child sitting at the feet of that priest, but I am learning.”
I can’t help but think that David knows more than he thinks. David holds his belief in Jesus like a child, simple and direct. His testimony is powerful and unforgettable. I am in awe, even a year later, of his story and testimony.
Today the church prays for the diocese of Yambio, in the South Sudan:
I found this today on NPR News and it delights me for a number of reasons. For one thing, I didn’t know David Eggars (you remember him from Zeitoun) had helped with the writing of ‘What Is The What?’. Second, who knew that any of these kids would survive? Survive, write a book, thrive, go back to the Sudan, give to the country – and vote. Every now and then in this sad world you hear a good story. This is one.
January 10, 2011
During Sudan’s civil war, in which some 2 million people died, Valentino Achak Deng fled to Ethiopia on foot. Separated from his family for 17 years, Deng is one of Sudan’s so-called Lost Boys, children who were orphaned or separated from their families during the brutal war.
Now, voting is under way in Southern Sudan in a referendum that is expected to split Africa’s largest country. Among those voting this week are the Lost Boys, including Deng, whose life became a best-selling novel in America and who has returned to his homeland to build a school.
After a peace agreement between north and south, Deng returned to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, in 2006. He says when he got there, the place was still a wreck.
“On some of these roads, you could see old war tanks. On some of these roads, in some neighborhoods you could see the bones and skulls of dead people,” he recalls now, driving around Juba.
Now, as Southern Sudan appears headed for independence, Deng is optimistic — and Juba looks a lot better. Paved roads, now lined with hotels and restaurants, arrived for the first time in 2007.
Juba is a booming city, one of incredible contrast: Barefoot women selling piles of gravel by the side of the road sit next to a Toyota dealership.
Peace is spurring investment and consumer demand. Juba’s growth is driven by Southern Sudan’s oil revenue as well aid from foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations.
Deng grew up in a tiny village called Marial Bai. In the 1980s, northern bombers and Arab militias came.
“They bombed Marial Bai, destroyed it, killed everything, burned crops and livestock,” he says.
Deng was there when the fighting came. He says he “ran away with the rest.” He was 9 years old.
Deng joined thousands of Lost Boys, who spent months trekking across Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia. His experience is captured in What Is the What, a novel by Dave Eggers, which reads like a modern-day story of Job.
The boys, some naked, march across an unforgiving landscape, facing Arab horsemen, bombing raids, lions and crocodiles.
Deng eventually resettled in the U.S., where he attended college and was mentored and sponsored by ordinary Americans.
In 2007, he returned to start a high school in Marial Bai, where there was none.
“We have 250 students. Our annual budget now stands at about $200,000 because the school is free,” he says.
The school is funded by Deng’s private foundation. He says most donations come from Americans touched by his story and the plight of Southern Sudan.
Deng, now 32, has just cast his vote for independence. He says that for a Sudanese child of war, his life’s journey is almost inconceivable.
“I never imagined I would be the person I am right now,” he says.
This spunky journalist has chosen to go to jail in the Sudan instead of paying the fine. Her lawyer is aghast, but Lubna Hussein says it will give her material to do a series on Sudanese jails, LOL! The judge had the option of sentencing her to flogging, but, wisely, abstained. You can read the entire story on AOL News
This is a follow up to an earlier story Whip Me if you Dare
Journalist Escapes Flogging in Sudan
By MOHAMED OSMAN and SARAH EL DEEB, AP
KHARTOUM, Sudan (Sept. 7) – A Sudanese judge convicted a woman journalist on Monday for violating the public indecency law by wearing trousers outdoors and fined her $200, but did not impose a feared flogging penalty.
Lubna Hussein was among 13 women arrested July 3 in a raid by the public order police in Khartoum. Ten of the women were fined and flogged two days later. But Hussein and two others decided to go to trial.
The female journalist on trial in Sudan for wearing trousers in public was convicted Monday for violating the country’s indecency law. A judge ruled that Lubna Hussein, seen above outside the courthouse after the verdict in Khartoum, will not be flogged, but must pay a $200 fine. The case has made headlines around the world.
“I will not pay a penny,” she told the Associated Press while still in court custody, wearing the same trousers that had sparked her arrest.
Hussein said Friday she would rather go to jail than pay any fine, out of protest of the nation’s strict laws on women’s dress.
“I won’t pay, as a matter of principle,” she said. “I would spend a month in jail. It is a chance to explore the conditions in jail.”
The case has made headlines in Sudan and around the world and Hussein used it to rally world opinion against the country’s morality laws based on a strict interpretation of Islam.
Galal al-Sayed, Hussein’s lawyer, said he advised her to pay the fine before appealing the decision. She refused, he said, “She insisted.”
The lawyer said the judge ignored his request to present defense witnesses.
“The ruling is incorrect,” he said, adding that the prosecution witnesses gave contradictory statements.
Al-Sayed said the judge had the option of choosing flogging, but apparently opted for fine to avoid international criticism. “There is a general sentiment in the world that flogging is humiliating.”
Ahead of the trial, police rounded up dozens of female demonstrators, many of them wearing trousers, outside the courtroom.
The London-based Amnesty International on Friday called on the Sudanese government to withdraw the charges against Hussein and repeal the law which justifies “abhorrent” penalties.
Human rights and political groups in Sudan say the law is in violation of the 2005 constitution drafted after a peace deal ended two decades of war between the predominantly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south Sudan.
The Amnesty statement said Sudan had been urged to amend the law which permits flogging, on the grounds that it is state-sanctioned torture, after eight women were flogged in public in 2003 with plastic and metal whips leaving permanent scars on the women. The women had been picnicking with male friends.