Pope Francis has met privately 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 characterised 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. 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.