Italy's Catholics asked to give up texting, surfing Net during Lent
ROME -- Roman Catholic bishops in Italy are urging the faithful to go on a high-tech fast for Lent, switching off modern appliances from cars to iPods and abstaining from surfing the Internet or text messaging until Easter.
The suggestion gives a modern twist to traditional forms of abstinence in the five-week period Christians set aside for fasting and prayer ahead of Easter.
And it shows the church's increasing focus on technology's uses -- with many of the Lenten appeals posted on various dioceses' websites.
Dioceses and Catholic groups in Modena, southern Bari and other cities have called for a ban on text messaging every Friday in Lent, which began last week with Ash Wednesday.
"It's a small way to remember the importance of concrete and not virtual relationships," the Modena diocese said in a statement.
The Turin diocese is suggesting the faithful not watch television during Lent. In the northeastern city of Trento, the church has created a "new lifestyles" calendar with proposals for each week of Lent.
Some ideas: Leave cars at home and hop on a bike or a bus; stop throwing chewing gum on the street and start recycling waste; enjoy the silence of a week without the Internet and iPods.
Italian laity and clergy have reacted cautiously to the proposals. Some say Lenten abstinence should be a personal matter, and others contend that people who need technology to work shouldn't be asked to do without.
"What does giving up mean? If the use is capricious, then abstinence is welcome, but if technology is needed for work, it makes no sense," said the Rev. Giancarlo Angelo Andreis, a priest at a Rome basilica.
"I have to decide how to experience the Lent period. I should give up something if I really feel it, not because the church says so," said 26-year-old Angelo Dente.
The church is trying to balance an increasing appreciation of modern communication with a wariness of new media.
In January, the Vatican launched its own YouTube channel, with Pope Benedict XVI welcoming viewers to this "great family that knows no borders."
Benedict praised social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace for forging friendships and understanding but cautioned that online networking could isolate people from real social interaction.
The pope has also warned about what he has called the tendency of entertainment media to trivialize sex and promote violence.