Roman Catholic bishops in Italy are urging the faithful to go on a high-tech fast for Lent, switching off modern devices from cars to iPods and abstaining from using the Web or text messaging until Easter.
The suggestion goes far beyond traditional meatless Fridays, giving a modern twist to traditional forms of abstinence in the five-week period Christians set aside for fasting and prayer ahead of Easter. It also 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 several cities 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. "It's an instrument to remind us that our actions and lifestyles have consequences in distant countries." The diocese said the "no SMS day" seeks to draw attention to years of conflict in Congo fueled in part by the struggle for control of coltan mines. The mineral is an essential material in cellphones.
The Turin diocese is suggesting the faithful not watch television during Lent. In 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.
Italians have reacted cautiously. 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 Giancarlo Angelo Andreis, a priest in Rome.
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. (info from The Associated Press)