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Monday, February 27, 2006

God's judgment harsh for sectarian violence in his name, Benedict says

John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI condemned the recent violence that left mosques and churches destroyed and hundreds dead in Iraq and Nigeria.

God will be severe in judging those who kill in his name, the pope said at a noon blessing Feb. 26.

"The fruits of faith in God are not devastating antagonisms, but a spirit of fraternity and cooperation for the common good. God, the creator and father of all, will call to account even more severely those who spill the blood of their brother in his name," he told tens of thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

The pope's comments came after the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine known as the Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, an act that prompted a wave of violence between Muslim groups that left more than 200 people dead.

The Vatican was closely following the developments, which plunged Iraq deeper into chaos.

"The news of tragic violence in Iraq arrives continuously in these days, with attacks even on mosques. These are actions that disseminate hatred and seriously hinder the already difficult task of reconstruction of the country," the pope said.

In Nigeria, the pope noted, conflict between Christians and Muslims had continued for several days. The violence was set off by a Muslim demonstration against the publication of cartoons satirical of Islam; when the demonstration got out of hand, a mob set fire to churches and the property of Christians, leaving several people dead, including a Catholic priest.

In the days that followed, Christians in some southern Nigerian cities rioted, burning mosques and killing some Muslims.

Authorities said that after three days of violence in the country, at least 120 people had been killed.

The pope said he was saddened to hear of the killings and destruction of many churches and mosques in Nigeria and expressed his condolences for all those killed.

"While I express firm condemnation for the violation of places of worship, I entrust to the Lord all the dead and those who mourn them," he said.

Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, president of the Nigerian bishops' conference, said the violence was not a "conflict of religions" as such, but the result of a number of simmering social problems, including economic uncertainty and ethnic resentment.

He said criminal elements had, as always, taken advantage of the situation to loot shops and homes.

Archbishop Onaiyekan, who has helped maintain fairly good relations with local Muslim leaders, said the violence was also fueled by the inflated rhetoric of local Islamic preachers.

"Official Islam has difficulty in controlling these self-proclaimed preachers," he said.

The archbishop made a point he has frequently underlined when such violence flares up in Nigeria -- that the country's civil authorities have a major responsibility for maintaining order and preventing bloodshed.

At a Rome symposium in 2004, Archbishop Onaiyekan expressed concern that the Iraq War, seen by many Nigerian Muslims as a religious war, was increasing the appeal of Islamic extremists in the country.

  • Copyright (c) 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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