“Thank You for Being an Example to Us All”

Meriam Ibrahim is free at last — and has been thanked for her faith by the Pope! Here is the video now going around the world:

Ironically, this Catholic family where the husband and children are American citizens was helped most not by the U.S. but by the Italian government, which arranged for her release; the Italian deputy foreign minister accompanied her and her family to Rome. Many people suspect Pope Francis was working behind the scenes in all this.

Perhaps if the Obama administration wasn’t so busy trying to curtail religious liberty rights at home, he might be able to do more, and be more credible, when speaking of freedom — all kinds of freedom — around the world.

Update: July 25

Vatican Radio has a fascinating interview with deputy foreign minister Lapo Pistelli, who brought the family to the U.S. He talks about the negotiations with insight into the regime in Kartoum, and how Meriam’s face lit up with a smile when she learned she would meet the Pope!

More on Meriam Ibrahim

This courageous young mother, in prison in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, has still not been freed, and the appeals court has not yet moved on her case (I have written about it at length here). I have come across more information about her that I want to post.

Meriam-babyIt seems that Meriam is not just Christian, but Catholic, as is her husband Daniel. The Archdiocese of Khartoum has launched an appeal on her behalf; you can read their detailed statement here. There is also a petition you can sign.

You can also visit the Facebook page set up for her supporters. The Drew Mariani radio show has a fascinating interview from June 19 with activist Jeff Gardner who is involved in her case. He gives some harrowing details, and also reveals that she was most likely denounced to the authorities, not by anyone in her family, but by some people who had an eye on property that belonged to her family, and wanted her out of the way. Amazing.

Pray for Meriam above all, and keep contacting your Senators and Congressmen, the State Department and President Obama, and tell them to speak out on behalf of this women, as well as her husband and children, who are American citizens. So far nothing serious has been done. Contact the U.S. Embassy in Sudan to ask them to act. She needs to be freed soon, because she is going to be flogged and executed by hanging if an appeal does not free her.

Update: June 24 8 p.m.: as you may know already, Meriam was released yesterday — and promptly re-arrested today at the Khartoum airport as she was about to leave the country with her husband and children. She is being detained by security forces. There is a petition to the State Department here. Urge Secretary of State John Kerry to call on the Sudanese authorities to release Meriam Ibrahim.

Update: June 24 (a few minutes after 8): Apparently according to NPR she has been freed again. Will check on this.

Update: June 24 (8:30)

It’s true — they are free! Here is the story from the Christian Post.

“They were temporarily detained for several hours over questions related to their documents,” Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. state department told journalists, adding that Sudan had guaranteed to the U.S. that the family was now safe.
A Sudanese official earlier told the BBC that Ibrahim had been using South Sudanese papers to leave the country and needed to obtain a passport and exit visa prior to her release.
The report speculated that the National Intelligence and Security Service — a key stakeholder in Sudanese politics — was unhappy with the recent decision to release Ibrahim and that “re-arresting her and her family was a way of making this point to the rest of the Sudanese government.
It is also conceivable that one part of NISS accepted Mrs Ibrahim’s release, while another section was not happy with it. Mrs Ibrahim’s release and re-arrest simply underline the fact that there are many decision-makers in Sudanese politics, and they do not always agree with each other,” it added.

Thanks be to God! Let’s pray they get their documents and are allowed to leave soon.

Was Joan of Arc a Feminist?

Today is the feast day of St. Joan of Arc, certainly one of the most widely celebrated women in history. This simple peasant girl, who lived during the Hundred Years’ War, was not yet 17 when she was inspired by visions of the Archangel Michael, St. Margaret and St. Catherine, who told her that God desired to free France from the control of the English and that it was her duty to act.

She persuaded the French Dauphin, as yet uncrowned, to let her lead his troops – and after raising the siege of Orleans, she led the army on a victorious path to Reims, where the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII in 1429. The following spring she was captured by the English and their French supporters, and tried for heresy at an inquisitorial court in Rouen. She was convicted and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431.  Ever since then, Joan has considered a national heroine to the French.

Her condemnation by the Church was judged void because politically motivated, and 25 years after her death, the verdict was overturned. It took a number of centuries, but the former excommunicated heretic was proclaimed a saint in 1920.

Joan of Arc shown in The Coronation of Charles VII (detail) by Ingres

Joan of Arc shown in The Coronation of Charles VII (detail) by Ingres

Joan has always been a tremendous inspiration to me in my life, and in fact, studying the records of her trial was one of the things that led me to want to become a historian, because no fictional story could be as thrilling as actual historical records like these, and nothing else could be as great as making stories like Joan’s better known.

As a Catholic historian, I’m feeling a bit incensed right now because a Catholic historian, Christopher Check, has written a post at Catholic Answers decrying the very idea that Joan might be considered a feminist. To him, a feminist can be boiled down to being a woman who is mannish, or unfeminine, just wants to “make it big in a man’s world, and is sexually promiscuous. Obviously, Joan was not a feminist in this distorted sense. But a historian above should not take this narrow view.

I might point out that the original purpose of feminism was to achieve justice, and equal rights for all, including women. The early nineteenth-century feminists in the U.S. were known for their support of the abolitionist movement to free the slaves. And if it weren’t for these first feminists, women in the U.S. would still not have the right to vote. The whole basis of feminism can be found in the treatment Jesus gave women in the Gospel and in St. Paul’s “In Christ there is no slave or free . . . no male or female” (Gal 3:28).

To me, St. Joan can teach modern-day women (and feminists) a great deal. She is certainly proof that the courage of martyrdom or the courage to pursue a righteous cause even unto death does not belong exclusively to males – in fact, because courage is a divine virtue, it doesn’t depend at all on biology or hormones. All human beings can be equal in heroism. Meriam Ibrahim (see the post just below this one) is certainly proof of that.  And courage unto death for the cause of justice, while not equivalent to martyrdom is nevertheless meritorious in the eyes of God — for both male and female. (In fact, the Church doesn’t recognize Joan as a martyr, because she didn’t directly die for the faith — her persecutors were Christians themselves).

Someone who obviously admires Joan greatly is Pope Benedict XVI, has explained this well.  In a Wednesday general audience on St. Joan in 2011, he said that along with Catherine of Siena, Joan is “perhaps the most representative of those ‘strong women’ who, at the end of the Middle Ages, fearlessly bore the great light of the Gospel in the complex events of history. We could liken them to the holy women who stayed on Calvary, close to the Crucified Jesus and to Mary his Mother, while the Apostles had fled and Peter himself had denied him three times. . . .This saint understood that Love embraces all things of God and man, of heaven and earth, of the Church and the world. … Joan saw Jesus as the “King of Heaven and of the earth”. She therefore had painted on her standard the image of “Our Lord holding the world” (ibid., p. 172): the emblem of her political mission. Liberating her people was an act of human justice, which Joan performed in charity, for love of Jesus, hers is a beautiful example of sanctity for lay people involved in political life, especially in the most difficult situations.” (General audience, January 26, 2011)

Modern-day “feminism” of abortion, man-hating and sexual license has fallen far from the original ideal, and I believe is attracting fewer and fewer adherents. But there is still plenty of room in today’s society for the the ideal of the first feminists of equal freedom and dignity for women — a concept that is still almost unknown to large parts of the world outside of the U.S. and Europe today, including the Islamic countries. There is still a lot of work to do in achieving true equal rights around the world, a righteous cause that needs great courage from many of the women who will pursue it, even in the face of a false feminism, that reduces global progress for women in terms of their access to abortion and contraception. The world needs more and more true feminists among young women.

And Joan of Arc is a very inspiring role model for them!

Free Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam-IbrahimI’m sure you’ve heard by now of the plight of Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year-old Sudanese woman who is scheduled to be  by an oppressive Islamic regime because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.

She has been in jail for some months with her now-20-month-old son Martin, and gave birth in prison to a baby girl named Maya on May 27. Prison conditions are terrible, and Meriam’s family fears for the life of mother and baby.

Meriam is married to an American citizen, Daniel Wani, and this also makes her children American citizens. There has been a worldwide outcry, but so far, the Obama administration has remained largely silent about this human rights violation.

Meriam’s mother belonged to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; the father, who is a Muslim, abandoned the family when she was six, and she was raised in her mother’s faith.  A Sudanese court sentenced her to death for apostasy from Islam. She was given a chance to save her life by rejecting Christianity for Islam. She refused. She will be allowed to nurse her new baby for two years, and then will be hung.

Meriam-babyThere are a number of ways you can speak out. The Family Research Council has set up a petition asking the Obama administration to act in Meriam’s case. Go here to sign.

Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona has sponsored H. Res. 601, also supporting Merriam’s release. You can write your congressional representative here to urge him or her to support the resolution (you don’t even need to know your representative’s name.

Please help this courageous young woman and her family and call for her release.

Update, June 1: The Sudanese government is obviously growing nervous over the international outcry, and at least one official is now claiming Meriam will be released soon, but there is nothing official. No new information on it is being given to her family. Please pray for Meriam and her children.