VATICAN CITY -- Pope Benedict XVI appealed for an end to violence in Nigeria, condemning the Christmas church bombings that led to the deaths of at least 39 people.
The celebration of Christmas leads people to pray in an even stronger way that God would "stop the hands of the violent who sow death and that justice and peace would reign in the world," the pope said Dec. 26 as he recited the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter's Square.
A group called Boko Haram, which has been promoting the adoption of Islamic law across Nigeria, claimed responsibility for the bombings. News reports said at least 35 people died at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, just outside Abuja. Other deadly bombs were set off at the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church in Jos and at police stations in three other cities.
Pope Benedict told visitors and pilgrims that he was deeply saddened by the news of the Christmas bombings and he offered his prayers "to all those who have been stricken by this absurd gesture."
"Once again I want to repeat: Violence is a path that leads only to pain, destruction and death; respect, reconciliation and love are the paths to peace," he said.
Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria's capital, told Vatican Radio that most Christians in Nigeria simply do not understand the reason for the bombings, but many of the young people are very angry.
"We have tried to calm them down," he said, but church leaders also have told the government that the only way bring stability is to "identify and eliminate the dens of these terrorist groups."
"The majority of Nigerians -- Muslims and Christians -- want to live in peace together," the archbishop said, pointing out that there were Muslims injured in the bombing of St. Theresa's. "They were not in the church, but were just passing by on the street," he said after visiting them in the hospital.
In Nairobi, Kenya, Christmas Mass at Holy Family Basilica was interrupted when police asked Catholics to evacuate because a suspected terrorist was in the church. Kenyan military officers have been fighting with al-Shabab both in Somalia and the country, and security has been beefed up everywhere, including churches.