Pope 'deeply saddened' by Nigeria Christmas attacks

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI expressed his distress Monday following a deadly wave of bomb attacks, including against churches, in Nigeria and described the violence as absurd.

"I wish to express my solidarity with those who have been hit by this absurd act and invite prayers for the many victims," the pontiff told a crowd gathered for his Angelus prayer, from a window in the Apostolic Palace.

At least 40 people were killed in a string of bomb attacks in central and northern Nigeria attributed to the Islamist sect Boko Haram, which wants to impose Sharia law in Africa's most populous country.

In the worst attack, a bomb went off near the capital Abuja as worshippers exited a church following Christmas mass, killing at least 35 in gruesome scenes.

"Violence is a way that leads only to pain, destruction and death," the pope said, a day after delivering a Christmas message that focused on the plight of Africans stricken by famine, floods and conflict.

Christmas celebrations in religiously divided Nigeria were also marred by deadly attacks in the central city of Jos last year.