Gabriel Wani got a long-awaited, welcomed phone call from his brother, Daniel, Thursday morning telling him he and his wife, sentenced in Sudan to death by hanging for not renouncing her Christian faith, were safe and in Italy.
"I real excited (for him) to call me," Wani said. "I couldn't hold myself. I cried. I have been working so hard for this."
Wani had no idea that his brother, of Manchester, his brother’s wife, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag and their children, Martin, 22 months, and Maya, two months, who was born in a Khartoum prison, would soon be on an Italian goverment aircraft Wednesday enroute to Rome.
And, he was caught by surprise to learn the Prime Minister of Italy and his wife greeted the family at the airport and that soon after their arrival, his brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew had a private meeting with Pope Francis.
It came as a total surprise - albeit a great one - especially since Wani said he spoke by phone with his brother on Wednesday. Daniel Wani never let on that the family was finally about to leave Sudan.
"We have been waiting for this," he said.
It has been nearly a year-long ordeal for the family.
The Wani brothers fled war-torn Sudan in 1998 and settled in Manchester. They became U.S. citizens in 2005.
Daniel Wani met his wife on a trip to Sudan in 2011. Last summer, he went back to the Sudan to arrange for her and his son to join him in New Hampshire.
However, she was jailed in February after a member of the Muslim side of her family told authorities she recently converted from Islam to marry her Christian husband. That crime is punishable by death under Sudan's Shari'ah marriage laws, which were imposed in the 1980s.
Ibrahim maintained her Muslim father abandoned her family when she was six and that her Orthodox Christian mother raised her in her faith. She and her husband are now practicing Catholics, according to Gabriel Wani.
When Ibrahim refused to renounce her Christain faith, she was sentenced to death by hanging. Prior to being hanged, she was to endure 100 lashes for adultery.
In May, while shackled in prison, she gave birth to the couple's second child.
Sudan's high court overturned the conviction and in June the family was at the airport to catch a flight out of the country when Ibrahim was stopped for allegedly have a forged passport.
The family sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Khartoum and was there until Wednesday, when they were flown out of the country on an Italian goverment aircraft.
Gabriel Wani said he wanted to thank members of New Hampshire's congressional delegation, particularly Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's staff in Washington, D.C., as well as the U.S. State Department for their work in freeing his family members.