Vatican City, Nov 17, 2010 / 15:47 pm
Rarely does Pope Benedict XVI make appeals on behalf of individuals. But the Pope broke from custom Nov. 17, when he ended his weekly general audience with a plea for Pakistani officials to free a Christian mother recently sentenced to death.
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 said 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, a crime punishable by death in Pakistan, which is a self-professed Islamic Republic where the rights of religious minorities are sharply restricted.
The Pope said Pakistan should grant Bibi “complete freedom ... as soon as possible.” He added a pointed reference to the lack of religious freedom in the country. He also expressed “great concern” for Christians there, “who are often victims of violence or discrimination.”