Pope Francis has hailed the figure of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian who spent almost nine years in prison for blasphemy against Islam before being acquitted in 2019. “There is no era that has not had martyrs, right up to the present day,” he said during an audience with participants at a symposium on holiness on November 16, 2023.
9 Years of Christian witness
“Let us think of a case of Christian life lived in continuous martyrdom,” the Pope went on to say about Bibi, a mother sentenced to death in 2010 and finally released by Pakistani justice. “Almost nine years of Christian witness!” insisted the Argentine Pontiff, who received her family in 2018 at the Vatican.
In 2009, on the eve of her 40th birthday, Asia Bibi, a farm worker from the Punjab region, was accused by Muslim women of having defiled a well. After a legal marathon and international media and political mobilization — Benedict XVI and then Pope Francis in particular were moved by her case — the Pakistani was finally released from her prison in Multan in November 2018. She then fled to Canada.
“Many years passed before the moment when the judges said she was innocent,” said Pope Francis, recounting how Asia Bibi’s daughter had brought her the Eucharist in prison.
“She is a woman who continues to live, and there are many, many like her, who bear witness to faith and charity,” the Pope said to the participants in the colloquium promoted by the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, titled “The Community Dimension of Holiness.”
After Asia Bibi’s release, a meeting with Pope Francis had been planned. However, La Croix reported in 2020, she canceled the visit — along with other activities — because she believed it would endanger her chances of returning to Pakistan.
In his speech, the Pope also mentioned the inclusion in the Roman martyrology of the 21 Christian martyrs, including 20 Coptic Orthodox, killed by ISIS in Libya in 2015. This historic ecumenical initiative was announced last May. These were the first saints recognized by the Catholic and Coptic Churches since their separation in the fifth century. “They died saying: ‘Jesus, Jesus,’ on the beach,” Pope Francis recalled.