VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Bishop George Dodo of Zaria, Nigeria, was in the middle of his homily June 17 “when we heard a loud explosion.” A car bomb had just exploded near the Cathedral of Christ the King, where the bishop was celebrating the second Mass of the day.

“The car bomb created a crater two feet deep; all around there was broken glass, rubble and burning cars,” the bishop told Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Reuters, the British news agency, reported 10 people were killed at Christ the King.

Bombings also were reported at the Evangelical Church of the Good News in Zaria and at churches in Kaduna. Vatican Radio said June 18 that the total death toll from the Sunday bombings had reached 45 and some 100 people were reported injured, either by the bombings or by reprisal attacks afterward.

Bishop Dodo told Fides, “I am in contact with the governor and police authorities to see how to ensure the safety of the faithful. The maximum security authorities arrived on the site of the attack to calm tempers,” he added.

The bombing of Christian churches is widely believed to be the work of Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group.

Bishop Dodo said he had not heard of any Christians in Zaria seeking revenge for the killings on their Muslim neighbors, although such attacks had been reported in Kaduna.

“Especially when the news of the attack against the Pentecostal church spread, young people responded with violence, destroying some properties,” he said.

“In the past few weeks several Christian churches in northern Nigeria have been attacked: It is likely that the perpetrators of this violence are following a precise agenda,” the bishop said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, also said the attacks seem to reflect “an absurd plan of hatred.”

Sister Semira Carrozzo, an Italian member of the Oblates of Nazareth who has been in Nigeria for 22 years and runs a school in Kaduna, told Vatican Radio June 18, “We are very close — less than a kilometer — from the place where an attack was yesterday.

“They attacked two churches in Kaduna and burned houses,” she said. “The Christians did not stay calm, but reacted immediately, in the worst possible way.”

She said Boko Haram, which does not like the fact that the governor of Kaduna state and the president of Nigeria are Christians, is carrying out the attacks to destroy or at least dishearten Christians and make sure only Muslims win in the next elections.

The members of Boko Haram “are extremists,” she said. Since her school opened in 2000 there always have been Muslim children enrolled and the parents are supportive and friendly, she added.