Christians in Pakistan, Nigeria Pray for Peace

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Christians in Nigeria and Pakistan are on edge after witnessing days of death and destruction.

Hundreds have been killed in recent Nigerian violence, while Christians in Pakistan feel helpless after a Muslim mob attacked their homes over the weekend.

Christian schools across Pakistan are closed for the next three days to mourn the believers that were killed.

"So many houses were burnt and people killed, so all the Christian schools decided to close as a sign of protest," explained school administration Simon Raja.

Click play for more with Leonard Leo of the U.S. Commision on International Religious Freedom.

Two villagers were shot dead.  Six others, including two children, were burned alive when the hundreds of Muslims stormed a Christian neighborhood in Gojra city, Pakistan. 

The violence was prompted by allegations that Christians had desecrated a Quran.

Monday, Christians held a rally calling for justice and security for the residents of Gojra. Pakistani believers stood next to the coffins of those killed in the Muslim attack and demanded that the government find those responsible.

"Now you will arrest those people involved," one protestor said.  "Please do not force us to take up guns and weapons."

Christians make up a tiny minority of Pakistan's predominantly Sunni Muslim population.

They've faced intimidation at the hands of discriminatory laws, including one that carries the death penalty for using derogatory language against Islam, the Quran and the prophet Mohammad.

In Nigeria, after a week of deadly clashes between militant Muslims and Nigerian soldiers, Christians there worship under a cloud of uncertainty. 

"Our Christian brothers have been killed and our churches have been burnt," said Father John Paul Bashe of Saint Patrick's Church.

The violence began last week after a radical Muslim group, bent on imposing strict Islamic law across the country, attacked a police station in northern Nigeria. The group destroyed several churches and Christian homes.

Gun battles between security forces and the militant Muslims raged for days.

"They didn't want to surrender," explained Ben Ahanotu of the Nigerian military. "These people were prepared to die.  This is a jihad."

In the end, some 800 people were killed, including the group's leader.

At a Catholic mass, Sunday, Christians gathered to pray for peace, even as police officers stood guard outside.

"We should encourage ourselves to keep our faith, not encourage violence, so that we will be able to build this nation together and live together as brothers and sisters, whether Christian or Muslim," Bashe said.

Authorities are now trying to figure out how a homegrown Islamist group managed to unleash so much violence and how to prevent something like this from happening in the future.

*Originally published August 5, 2009 

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