Pope Benedict XVI appealed for an "immediate end to the killing of so many innocents" in Nigeria as deadly attacks by terrorists have spilled over into reprisal attacks between Muslims and Christians.
"It is my hope that the various components of Nigerian society will collaborate so as not to start down the path of revenge, and that all citizens will cooperate in building a peaceful and reconciled society, in which everyone's right freely to profess their faith is fully protected," the Pope said at the end of his June 20 general audience.
The situation has also caused Catholic bishops in Nirgeria to lament the dead and injured who have fallen victim over the last three days. The violence began on Sunday, June 17 when Christian churches were targeted with bombs. Those attacks were followed by reprisals against Muslims.
Bishop George Jonathan Dodo of Zaria in the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna was preaching during the second morning Mass at Christ the King Catholic Cathedral when a car bomb exploded nearby.
“The car bomb created a crater two feet deep. All around there was broken glass, rubble and burning cars,” the bishop told Fides news agency.
The bomber had intended to target the church directly but a security guard stopped him.
Another bomb hit Zaria’s Evangelical Church of the Good News five minutes before the attempt on the cathedral.
Moments after the attack on the cathedral, a bomb hit the Shalom Church in the city of Kaduna.
The blasts killed at least 19 people, according to the most recent reports. The insurgent Islamist group Boko Haram, which has killed over 1,000 people since 2009, claimed responsibility.
It said the attacks were retaliation for “atrocities Christians perpetrated against Muslims.”
Police arrested a Boko Haram suspect with bombs in his possession. His suspected co-conspirators then set off explosives and shot indiscriminately.
The blasts triggered reprisals from mobs of Christians in Kaduna city, where, mobs attacked three mosques, gas stations and vehicles. The reprisals killed at least 52 people.
Archbishop Matthew Man-oso Ndagoso of Kaduna lamented the deaths.
“Unfortunately many young people reacted to the attacks with more violence. Unfortunately there are victims in both communities, Christian and Muslim,” he told Fides.
Bishop Dodo said he has not heard of reprisals in Zaria.
“The maximum security authorities arrived on the site of the attack to calm tempers,” he said.
On June 20, a flare up in reprisals resulted in dozens more deaths when Christian youths allegedly attacked houses in a Muslim area of Kaduna and police shot some of the assailants, Reuters reports.
Authorities had declared a statewide curfew on Sunday, but have since limited restrictions on movement.
The bishop has contacted the governor and police authorities to secure the safety of the faithful. He noted recent attacks on Christian churches, saying the perpetrators are likely following “a precise agenda.”
Boko Haram members have previously said they intend to create an Islamic state across the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria, though Nigeria’s south is largely Christian.