Pope Christmas peace appeal marred by Nigeria blasts

Sun Dec 25, 2011 11:14am EST
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict called for an end to violence in Syria on Sunday but his Christmas day peace appeal was marred by a bomb at a Catholic Church in Nigeria which the Vatican condemned as blind "terrorist violence."

The leader of the world's 1.3 billion Roman Catholics delivered his twice-yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message and blessing to tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square on a crisp but clear day as millions of others watched on television around the world.

At the end of his address, the 84-year-old pope, celebrating the seventh Christmas season of his pontificate, delivered Christmas greetings in 65 languages, including Turkish, Hebrew, Arabic, Swahili, Hindi, Urdu and Chinese.

"May the Lord come to the aid of our world torn by so many conflicts which even today stain the earth with blood," he said, speaking in a firm voice in Italian from the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica.

The day that symbolizes peace for many around the world was marred by blasts in Nigeria, including one against a Catholic church near the capital Abuja that killed at least 27 people.

The pope did not mention the blast in his address, which was prepared before news of explosion arrived in Rome. But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi condemned it.

"We are close to the suffering of the Nigerian Church and the entire Nigerian people so tried by terrorist violence, even in these days that should be of joy and peace," Lombardi told Reuters.

Responsibility for the blast at St Theresa's church and four others in Nigeria on Christmas day was claimed by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic sharia law across a country split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims.   Continued...

<p>Pope Benedict XVI delivers the Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) Christmas Day message from the central balcony of Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican December 25, 2011. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano</p>