VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI appealed for peace in the world’s troublespots in his Easter Sunday message but one of the holiest days for Christians was marred by fresh violence in Nigeria and Syria.
A car bombing near a church in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna killed at least 20 people, while another blast later in the central city of Jos caused a number of injuries.
The Kaduna bombing was the latest in a wave of attacks against the Christian community in northern Nigeria that have mostly been blamed on an Islamist sect.
In Syria, monitors said 51 more people were killed Sunday as Bashar al-Assad’s regime insisted it would not pull out from cities as called for by the UN Security Council unless it received written guarantees from the rebels.
And news emerged of the collapse of a church in central Nigeria in which 22 people were killed.
Speaking before a crowd of 100,000 faithful in St Peter’s square in Rome, the pope called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria where fighting continues to claim lives ahead of a deadline Tuesday for all sides to cease fire.
“Particularly in Syria, may there be an end to bloodshed and an immediate commitment to the path of respect, dialogue and reconciliation, as called for by the international community,” he said.
The head of the Roman Catholic Church also voiced hope that the thousands of refugees fleeing the crisis would receive help to relieve “their dreadful sufferings”.
On Saturday, 130 people were killed in one of the bloodiest days since protests against Assad’s regime erupted in March last year.
Turning to Iraq, the pope encouraged the people to “spare no effort in pursuing the path of stability and development”.
And he urged Israel and the Palestinians to “courageously take up anew the peace process”. Direct talks between the two sides have been frozen since September 2010.
Pope Benedict also called for peace and stability to return to Mali as the military junta that seized power last month prepared to step down.
Benedict condemned the violence in Nigeria as a car bomb exploded near a Christian church in the city of Kaduna during Easter services.
One rescue official said at least 20 people were killed in the bombing, which was similar to attacks claimed by Islamist sect Boko Haram, such as their Christmas Day attacks on churches in northern Nigeria.
News also emerged Sunday that a Catholic church in central Nigeria’s Benue state had collapsed the previous night, killing 22 people including six children and injuring 31 others.
The accident happened at St Robert’s Catholic church in Adamgbe after a heavy downpour, said a government spokesman.
The pope urged reconciliation in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, and in Sudan and South Sudan, where deadly border violence has erupted, raising fears of all-out war between the rival neighbours.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fuad Twal, the most senior Roman Catholic in the Middle East, spoke of the fear of Christians in the Middle East faced by a rise of extremist Islam.
Many “live in fear: fear due to the unrest in our region; fear of an uncertain, even dark future,” said Twal, speaking at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City.
In England, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, urged religious leaders in Israel and the Palestinian territories to seek a “truly shared future”.
Speaking at Canterbury Cathedral the 61-year-old Church leader, who steps down in December after 10 years in the post, said Israel’s right to exist must be respected but that the “humiliation” of Palestinians was unacceptable.
Easter celebrations around the world saw Catholic fanatics in the Philippines nailing themselves to crosses in a bloody display of religious frenzy.
In Stains, just north of Paris, a six-year-old girl was killed and many worshippers were injured when a floor collapsed in a building hosting an Easter service. Prosecutor said two people were in custody over the accident.