BY JOHN THAVIS
POPE BENEDICT xvi has condemned the wave of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, as acts of "cruel and senseless violence" and led prayers for the nearly 200 people who died and the hundreds injured in the bloodshed.
A Vatican spokesman, meanwhile, said that if extremists continue to exploit the ethnic and religious tensions of southern Asia the results could be even more tragic.
Speaking at his noon blessing on Sunday the Pope asked for prayers; for the victims of the attacks in Mumbai, the Indian financial capital, where suspected Islamic militants assaulted at least 10 targets in a three-day siege.
The Pope also expressed concern at the clashes between rival ethnic and religious groups in Jos, Nigeria, where at least 200 people were killed last week. Churches and mosques were burned in the rioting.
"The causes and circumstances of these tragic events are different, but there should be a common sense of horror and condemnation for the explosion of such cruel and senseless violence," the Pope told pilgrims from his apartment window overlooking St Peter's Square.
"Let us ask the Lord to touch the hearts of those who delude themselves by thinking that this is the way to resolve local or international problems," he said.
The morning after gunmen attacked the targets in Mumbai, including the luxury Taj Mahal hotel, the Pope deplored the brutality of the violence in a telegram sent to Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai.
He appealed "for an end to all acts of terrorism, which gravely offend the human family and severely destabilise the peace and solidarity needed to build a civilisation worthy of mankind's noble vocation to love God and neighbour".
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, said the well-coordinated attacks were reminiscent of the September 11 2001 terrorist acts against US targets.
In a commentary on Vatican Radio Fr Lombardi said the terrorists had clearly chosen India, a place of tensions and conflicts, as a "critical point at which to try to ignite an even more frightening conflagration, whose consequences are difficult to imagine, given the demographic dimensions of southern Asia and its role in world development".
In addition to political tensions in the region, he said, India has been troubled by "persistent and perhaps growing fundamentalist currents, not only in the Islamic world but alio among Hindus". He noted that India's minority Catholic community had suffered recent discrimination and attacks, just as the country's Muslim community did several years ago in a wave of anti-Islamic violence.
"It is horrible that in today's world religion is mixed up with violence. Fundamentalism is one of the most dramatic risks faced by humanity, and it challenges the conscience of every religious person," the Vatican spokesman said.
In India Cardinal Gracias immediately expressed the Church's shock and sadness at the terrorist attacks, which he said were an attack upon the entire country. "The Church in India condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. Innocent and unconnected people have been killed. Very brave police officers have been killed," the cardinal said. He said the Catholic Church in Mumbai was making all its medical services available to the wounded.
"We must fight together as a nation and as a united people to combat the terrorists. We must never give up hope because ultimately hope will prevail," the cardinal said.
The Indian bishops' confer ence, meanwhile, appealed to the government to take all necessary means to "guarantee the safety of citizens, who yearn for peace and calm".
Auxiliary Bishop Bosco Penha of Mumbai said the Church condemned "this dastardly act of terrorism", which, he said, was of "unprecedented ferocity".
All Catholics, he said, should "go on their knees to pray and get involved in building bridges" among people of all religions and "spread peace, harmony and brotherhood in the city".