A Catholic church in Nigeria still in mourning after a Christmas Day bombing by a radical Islamist sect buried its dead Wednesday amid wails of grief and under the watch of security agencies that still fear more violence.
Neatly dug graves awaited the corpses in a vacant dirt lot in the church's compound, now turned into a mass tomb. Church officials said that of at least 44 people who died in the violence at St. Theresa Catholic Church, some still remain unclaimed and unrecognizable after the Dec. 25 attack by the sect known as Boko Haram.
Inside the church, whose front steps have been barred off by iron fencing, red bunting hung above the altar over a crucifix and a painting of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper, his hands open wide, his face serene. About 2,000 mourners and priests surrounded the caskets placed there.
One casket, covered in Nigeria's green-and-white national flag, had a pair of black boots sitting atop. The body within belonged to a young Boy Scout.
"As I look at you, I am consoled and comforted. As I looked at the caskets here covered in white, I am comforted and consoled because from the day of our baptism we were given a white cloth," Bishop Martin Uzoukwu said.
The bishop called on the crowd to forgive, as well as praise God. He said: "If that vehicle that brought the bomb had been allowed to come in, it could have been worse."
The bombing there Christmas Day struck just after 8 a.m. as worshippers began to leave the sanctuary after a morning service. A car bomb detonated near the church's front steps, cutting down those leaving.
Those wounded quickly overwhelmed Nigeria's chronically underprepared emergency services, filling the cement floors of a nearby government hospital, crying in pools of their own blood. Corpses lined an open-air morgue.
Boko Haram later claimed responsibility for the attack that saw others die in attacks in two other Nigerian cities. The sect, whose whose name means "Western education is sacrilege" in the local Hausa language, is carrying out increasingly sophisticated and bloody attacks in its campaign to implement strict Shariah law and avenge Muslim killings in Nigeria, a multiethnic nation of more than 160 million people.
The sect was blamed for at least 510 killings last year alone, according to an Associated Press count. The violence has not stopped this year, as the sect claimed a coordinated assault Jan. 20 in the northern city of Kano that killed at least 185 people.
Outside the church, the town near Nigeria's capital Abuja remained tense Wednesday. Heavily armed soldiers guarded the road. The crowd within hysterically shouted away a local Muslim leader who wanted to attend the ceremony.
Bishop John Onayekan still called on those gathered to pray for those who organized the attack.
"Beyond forgiveness, let us pray for the conversion of those who have allowed themselves to be used by the devil to perpetrate such a diabolic act targeting and killing innocent men, women and children," Onayekan said.
But violence by Boko Haram, which has increasingly begun targeting Christians, has inflamed longtime tensions between the group. Thousands have died in recent years in rioting sparked by ethnic and religious differences in this nation largely divided into a Christian south and a Muslim north.