Pope Benedict XVI has denounced the bombing of a Nigerian Catholic church that killed 35 people on Christmas Day, saying only respect and reconciliation can bring peace -- not violence.

Speaking at his post-Christmas blessing today, Benedict said he had learned with "profound sadness" of the "absurd" attack on the St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, which was claimed by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram.

It was the second year in a row that the group has staged Christmas attacks.

Benedict invited everyone to pray for the victims and Nigeria's Christian community. He said: "In this moment, I want to repeat once again with force: violence is a path that leads only to pain, destruction and death. Respect, reconciliation and love are the only path to peace."

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