VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Monday denounced the "vile and senseless" bombing in a Pakistani park targeting Christian families celebrating Easter and pressed for protection for religious minorities in the largely Muslim nation.

"Easter Sunday was bloodied by an abominable attack that massacred so many innocent people, for the most part families of the Christian minority, especially women and children, gathered in a public park to joyfully pass the Easter holiday," Francis solemnly told faithful in St. Peter's Square.

Later, Pakistani authorities said most victims identified so far were Muslim. They said Christians also were among the 70 victims.

Francis has repeatedly spoken passionately about the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Asia targeted by Islamic extremists. Just last week, in a Good Friday service, Francis criticized what he called "cowardly silence" toward the persecution and killing of Christians.

Francis on Monday pointedly called for improved security for religious minorities and asked those present to pray for the victims.

As he has done frequently after deadly extremists attacks in Europe and elsewhere in recent months, the pope insisted that "violence and murderous hate lead only to sorrow and destruction." Instead, "respect and brotherhood are the only path to achieve peace."

Francis invited prayers for an end to the actions of "violent persons, who sow terror and death."

Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio