After two years in captivity, Bitrus and her two living sons were able to escape when the militants fled as Nigerian troops closed in on the encampment. Amid the chaos, a group of prisoners fled into the forest, where they spent nearly a month with almost no food or water, she recounted, adding that mosquitoes constantly attacked them and she developed severe rashes that have left scars on her body.
With the help of a local community, they were eventually pointed in the direction of the Nigerian army. The troops initially didn't believe that Bitrus was Christian, and thought she was a member of Boko Haram. However, after reciting several prayers, including the Hail Mary and the Glory Be, they believed her and sent her to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Afterward being discharged, she was sent back to her hometown of Maiduguri, where she was reunited with her husband. For the two years prior, they had each believed that the other had been killed.
When she first escaped, Bitrus said she struggled to accept her youngest child, who was six months old at the time, because he reminded her of the atrocities she had suffered. However, the local bishop, Oliver Dashe Doeme, talked to her and encouraged her to both "accept and love" the child, saying he could grow up to be "an important person in life, a person who could help me."
She voiced gratitude to Bishop Dashe Doeme, saying he "cared for my needs and I grateful for that."
Although it was not easy, Bitrus said she was eventually able to forgive Boko Haram for everything she endured.
"I am convinced about Jesus' teaching on forgiveness," she said, noting how Jesus himself was tortured, treated unjustly and condemned to death.
However, "even on the cross Jesus forgave those who inflicted pain to him; he said 'Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,'" she reflected.
Bitrus was able to tell her story to Pope Francis during a private Feb. 24 audience at the Vatican. Joining her were Ashiq Masih and Eisham Ashiq, the husband and daughter, respectively, of Asia Bibi, who has been on death row in Pakistan since 2010 on charges of blasphemy.
The meeting was organized by Aid to the Church in Need, a papal foundation dedicated to supporting persecuted Christians. On Saturday, the organization hosted an event in which Rome's ancient Colosseum was illuminated red in order to raise awareness of anti-Christian persecution throughout the world and commemorate the modern martyrs who have died for their faith.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Tonight the colosseum in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Rome?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Rome</a> is illuminated red in honor of persecuted Christians throughout the world <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ColosseoRosso?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ColosseoRosso</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/acn_int?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@acn_int</a> ???? <a href="https://twitter.com/dibanezgut?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@dibanezgut</a> <a href="https://t.co/9QlK0pQtaB">pic.twitter.com/9QlK0pQtaB</a></p>— Elise Harris (@eharris_it) <a href="https://twitter.com/eharris_it/status/967463801451892736?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 24, 2018</a></blockquote>
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In comments to EWTN Feb. 23, Ashiq Masih said that although his wife is still in prison, she is doing well and is "a symbol of faith."
"We hope she is going to freed one day, by the grace of God," he said, explaining that the ordeal has been difficult for the family to endure, because "we are missing her and she misses us."
Bibi's daughter, Eisham Ashiq, told EWTN that she wanted Pope Francis and all of Europe to pray that her mother would be released soon.