Pope calls Pakistan attack 'hideous,' demands protection for Christians

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Pope Francis gives Easter blessing

VATICAN CITY, March 28 (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Monday condemned the Easter suicide bomb by Islamist militants that killed at least 70 people in Pakistan, many of them Christians, as "hideous" and demanded that the country's authorities protect religious minorities.

Addressing thousands of people in St. Peter's Square on Easter Monday, a religious holiday, the pope said Pakistan had been "bloodied by a hideous attack that massacred so many innocent people, mostly families of the Christian minority."

The pope, speaking from the window of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace to crowds in the square below, called the Sunday evening attack in a busy park in the Pakistani city of Lahore, "a vile and senseless crime."

"I appeal to civil authorities and all sectors of that nation to make every effort to restore security and serenity to the population, and in particular to the most vulnerable religious minorities," he said.

Pope Francis, leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, said he also prayed that God would "stop the hands of the violent ones who sow terror and death."

A breakaway Taliban militant group that once declared loyalty to Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blast.

Pakistan is a majority-Muslim state though it has a Christian population of more than 2 million.

More from the scene of the attack:

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Pope calls Pakistan attack 'hideous,' demands protection for Christians
Forensic officers look for evidence at the site of a blast that happened outside a public park on Sunday, in Lahore, Pakistan, March 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
Family members mourn the death of a relative, who was killed in a blast that happened outside a public park on Sunday, in Lahore, Pakistan, March 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
A forensic officer looks for evidence at the site of a blast that happened outside a public park on Sunday, in Lahore, Pakistan, March 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
Pakistani security officials collect evidence at the cordoned-off site of the March 27 suicide bombing, in Lahore on March 28, 2016. The toll from a suicide blast in Pakistan's Lahore rose to 69, officials said on March 28, as authorities hunted for the 'savage inhumans' behind the attack in a park packed with Christian families celebrating Easter Sunday. More than 200 people were injured, many of them children, when explosives packed with ball bearings ripped through crowds near a children's play area in the park in Lahore, leaving dozens dead or bloodied. / AFP / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani relatives mourn over the body of a victim during a funeral following an overnight suicide bombing in Lahore on March 28, 2016. The toll from a suicide blast in Pakistan's Lahore rose to 69, officials said on March 28, as authorities hunted for the 'savage inhumans' behind the attack in a park packed with Christian families celebrating Easter Sunday. More than 200 people were injured, many of them children, when explosives packed with ball bearings ripped through crowds near a children's play area in the park in Lahore, leaving dozens dead or bloodied. / AFP / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani rescuers use a stretcher to shift a body from a bomb blast site in Lahore on March 27, 2016. At least 25 people were killed and dozens injured when an explosion ripped through the parking lot of a crowded park where many minority Christians had gone to celebrate Easter Sunday in the Pakistani city Lahore, officials said. / AFP / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani women mourn the death of relatives after a bomb blast in Lahore on March 27, 2016. At least 25 people were killed and dozens injured when an explosion ripped through the parking lot of a crowded park where many minority Christians had gone to celebrate Easter Sunday in the Pakistani city Lahore, officials said. / AFP / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani rescuers carry a body in an ambulance from a bomb blast site in Lahore on March 27, 2016. At least 25 people were killed and dozens injured when an explosion ripped through the parking lot of a crowded park where many minority Christians had gone to celebrate Easter Sunday in the Pakistani city Lahore, officials said. / AFP / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani rescuers and officials gather at a bomb blast site in Lahore on March 27, 2016. At least 25 people were killed and dozens injured when an explosion ripped through the parking lot of a crowded park where many minority Christians had gone to celebrate Easter Sunday in the Pakistani city Lahore, officials said. / AFP / ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read ARIF ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members mourn the death of a relative, who was killed in a blast outside a public park on Sunday, during funeral in Lahore, Pakistan, March 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani commando stand guard at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28, 2016. At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani commando stand guard at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28, 2016. At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani forensics collect evidence at the site of a suicide bombing in Lahore, on March 28, 2016. At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani commando stand guard at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28, 2016. At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani commando stand guard at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28, 2016. At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAHORE, PAKISTAN - MARCH 28: Pakistani commando stand guard at the suicide blast site in Lahore on March 28, 2016. At least 70 people, mostly women and children, have been killed at a crowded park in Pakistan in a suicide blast that also wounded more than 300 people. (Photo by Rana Irfan Ali /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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