Pope calls Egypt church attack vile gesture

VATICAN CITY Sun Jan 2, 2011 12:26pm EST

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his weekly Angelus blessing to the crowd gathered below in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his weekly Angelus blessing to the crowd gathered below in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican January 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Sunday condemned a bomb blast outside a church in Egypt which killed at least 21 people, the latest in a series of attacks on Christians in the Middle East and Africa.

"This vile gesture of death, like that of putting bombs near to the houses of Christians in Iraq to force them to leave, offends God and all of humanity," the pope said after his weekly angelus blessing.

The car bomb explosion outside a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria on Saturday wounded dozens of people as worshippers gathered to mark the new year and Egypt's Interior Ministry said a foreign-backed suicide bomber might have been responsible.

It prompted Christians to protest on the streets, and some Christians and Muslims threw stones at each other. Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 79 million.

The pope urged Christian communities to persevere in a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as "a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target."

Two people were killed and at least 16 wounded in a series of bomb attacks on Thursday on the homes of minority Christians in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, security sources said.

Over Christmas, six people were killed in attacks on two Christian churches in northeastern Nigeria and six were wounded by a bomb in a Roman Catholic Church on the island of Jolo in the Philippines.

The Vatican fears that the attacks, combined with severe restrictions on Christians in countries such as Saudi Arabia, are fuelling a Christian exodus from the region.

In his New Year's homily, the pope said "words were not enough" to bring about peace, particularly in the Middle East.

He called for "concrete and constant commitment" from national leaders and said everyone on a local level should strive for peace in their relations with their neighbors.

(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)

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