Christmas celebrations have been overshadowed by deadly violence against Christians in Africa and Asia, while several church services in the Middle East were canceled due to concerns over terror attacks.
A series of Christmas Eve attacks and explosions on churches and other sites left as many as 38 people dead in two Nigerian cities. In Nigeria's northern city of Maiduguri six people died in two separate attacks on churches, including a Baptist pastor, authorities and church officials said.
Police chief Mohammed Abubakar blamed Boko Haram, a radical Muslim sect, for the attacks on Victory Baptist Church and Church of Christ in Nigeria, which included throwing petrol bombs. In the central Nigerian city of Jos over 30 people died in several bombings, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Christians in northern and central Nigeria were mourning victims Sunday, December 26, after multiple attacks on churches and other sites on Christmas Eve claimed at least 38 lives in Plateau State and Borno State.
Christians said attacks began in the city of Jos in Plateau State, where a series of bombings killed over 30 people. The areas targeted included predominantly Christian areas.
Two of the bombs went off near a large market where people were doing last-minute Christmas shopping. A third hit a mainly Christian neighborhood of Jos, while the fourth was near a road that leads to the city's main mosque, officials said.
Around 28 seriously injured people were admitted to the ECWA Evangel Hospital, while others were taken to Jos University Teaching Hospital, Christians said. Many victims reportedly lost limbs, while others had shrapnel removed from their bodies, according to rights investigators.
Christmas eve 320 miles (520 kilometers) away in Maiduguri, in Borno State, was marred when 30 men armed with knives and guns attacked the Victory Baptist Church dragging the pastor out of his home and shooting him to death, witnesses said.
Two young men from the choir who were rehearsing for a late-night carol service also were slain. The assailants also killed two people who were passing by the church, Christians said. The assailants reportedly only left after setting the church and pastor's house ablaze.
Danjuma Akawu, the church's secretary, told reporters that he managed to escape after he and others climbed over the church's fence. "I cannot understand these attacks..."Why Christians? Why Christians? The police have failed to protect us," he said in a statement.
Elsewhere in the city, Reverend Haskanda Jessu with the Church of Christ in Nigeria said that three men attacked his church an hour later, killing a 60-year-old security guard. Police blamed Islamic militants, including of the Boko Haram Islamist sect, for the attacks.
In published remarks, Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, urged Christians not to give up hope. "We must celebrate the birth of our redeemer. It is no small sacrifice that Jesus paid with his becoming flesh, dying on the cross [and resurrecting from death] just to redeem me and all the world."
He said, Christians "are called by Christ to follow him; this is in spite of what is happening in the world, including Jos. We will celebrate Jesus; it's a choice we have made and to do otherwise is to submit to a defeated foe - Satan. Good will always win over evil."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), an advocacy group closely monitoring the situation, said the the bombings in Jos constitute "a significant escalation" in the violence in Plateau State, while the attacks in Maiduguri appear to herald "an unwelcome new dimension" to the violence perpetrated by "extremist" groups.
Elsewhere, in the Philippines, at least six people were injured when a bomb rocked an early morning Christmas mass in a church at a military base in Jolo on the Muslim-dominated southern Sulu island, the military said.
Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Randolf Cabangbang said the Catholic priest celebrating mass was among those wounded. Parts of the roof and ceiling were destroyed, causing the injuries, Cabangbang added. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but the separatist Abu Sayyaf movement has been blamed for several bombings on the Roman Catholic cathedral in Jolo since the early 2000s and for kidnapping priests and nuns.