Pope Benedict XVI issued pleas for peace to reign across the world during his traditional Christmas address Sunday, a call marred by Muslim extremists who bombed a Catholic church in Nigeria, striking after worshippers celebrated Mass.

The assault on the Catholic church left 35 dead in Madalla, near the Nigerian capital. A failed bombing also occurred near a church in the city of Jos, followed by a shooting that killed a police officer. The blast came a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombs in Jos claimed by Islamist militants killed 32.

Benedict didn’t refer explicitly to the Nigerian bombings in his “Urbi et Orbi” speech, Latin for “to the city and to the world” in which he raises alarm about world hotspots. But in a statement, the Vatican called the attacks a sign of “cruelty and absurd, blind hatred” that shows no respect for human life.

Elsewhere, Christmas was celebrated with the typical joy of the season: In Cuba, Catholics had plenty to cheer as they prepared for Benedict’s March arrival, the first visit by a pontiff to the Communist-run island since John Paul II’s historic tour nearly 14 years ago.

Continue Reading on www.usatoday.com