Fallout from the deadly Christmas bombings in Nigeria continues, as some Catholic leaders say they believe the violence is intended to ignite sectarian conflict.
“We continue to ask Christians to be vigilant and aware of the issue of safety when they go to church and even in their own homes,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the vice-president of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference, said in response to the attacks.
“We have appealed that there be no retaliation and we continue to preach peace, hoping that all of us in Nigeria, Muslims and Christians, we will be able to work and live happily together. This is our position: no violence, no retaliation. We want to live in peace,” he said in a Jan. 2 interview with Vatican Radio.
The attack killed at least 37 and wounded at least 57 Catholics on Christmas Day at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalia, outside the capital of Abuja. The perpetrators attacked from a moving car, throwing improvised explosive devices at worshippers who were leaving the church.
Some of the wounded ran toward a priest for final blessings, while some burned in their cars as they tried to leave, Agence France Presse reports.
Another church was targeted in Jos and a policeman was killed in a resulting shootout. A suicide bomber also hit a military convoy in the northeastern city of Damaturu.
About 30 Christian shops were burned in the city of Potiskum, while a supermarket and the home of a local Christian leader were also set on fire.
The attack on St. Theresa’s Catholic Church was attributed to Boko Haram, an Islamist group blamed for scores of attacks. The group is believed to have ties with outside extremist groups, including Al Qaeda’s northern Africa affiliates.
Abul Qaqa, a purported spokesman for the group, gave a three-day ultimatum for Christians to leave the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria and he has called for Muslims living in the mainly Christian south to move north.
Qaqa also criticized Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for visiting St. Theresa Church on Dec. 31, charging that he had never visited any areas where Muslims were massacred in post-election riots in April.
Some Nigerians worried the attacks could set off retaliation from Christians and cause sectarian clashes in their country.
“We continue to appeal to reason, for dialogue. It is possible for Muslims and Christians to reason together,” Archbishop Kaigama said. “We know that there are other forces behind the so-called Boko Haram, we do not even know who the Boko Haram really are, what they want, where they get their arms from.
“What is certain is that there are some forces behind them, either in Nigeria or abroad, who want to profit from instability in our country, but we will not give in to terrorism, we will not allow these fundamentalists to ruin our country.”
American Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, responded to the church attack in a Dec. 27 letter to Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abjua.
“In union with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, we reject these senseless acts of violence. We pray for all those who have been killed or injured, as well as their families,” the bishop said.
He supported the archbishop’s demand that the government of Nigeria identify and eliminate the terrorist groups.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Church in Nigeria at this time of loss and sorrow. We pray that the New Year will bring peace to your beloved country,” Bishop Pates said.