Cardinal's visit to Pakistan gives new hope for release of Asia Bibi

.- The president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue met with Pakistani President Ali Zardari on Nov. 25 to discuss the case of Asia Bibi.

Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of four, was convicted of blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad and sentenced to death by hanging in the town of Sheikhupura, near the capital city, Lahore.

Bibi has stated that she is being persecuted for defending her faith to Muslim co-workers who claimed that Christianity was a "false religion." She was jailed days later, brought to trial and convicted for blasphemy.

The meeting between Cardinal Tauran and President Zardari, as well as the country's Minister for Religious Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti had already been on the calendar but the events surrounding Bibi provided greater relevance to their discussions, reported Vatican Radio.

Cardinal Tauran celebrated Mass Nov. 26 at the Cathedral of Rawalpindi and expressed Pope Benedict XVI’s solidarity with the local Catholic community.  The next day, he met with Pakistani bishops in Lahore and attended a conference on inter-religious dialogue.

Vatican Radio also reported that the Pakistani Parliament is considering a proposal to punish blasphemy with five years in prison rather than with the death penalty. That idea has been met with rejection by Muslim extremists who also argue that President Zadari does not have the power to grant a pardon to Bibi.

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