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What to give up for Lent? Pope Francis wants you to stop being an internet troll

Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY

Pope Francis is urging Catholics on Ash Wednesday to give up something for Lent that they may have a very hard time doing without: being a jerk on the internet.

Insulting each other on the internet has become the great American pastime, especially in a bitterly contentious and highly polarizing presidential election year. The sharp rise in inflammatory and antagonizing online jabs has poisoned political discourse on social media, dividing friends and family members.

"We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence, too many offensive and harmful words," Francis said while speaking to tens of thousands in St. Peter's Square, according to Reuters. "Today, people insult each other as if they were saying 'good day.'"

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Pope Francis puts ashes on the forehead of Cardinal Jozef Tomko in the Santa Sabina Basilica during the Ash Wednesday Mass opening Lent, the forty-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Francis himself has not been immune from trolls. On Twitter, fights rage between his supporters and critics.

Ash Wednesday kicks off the start the 40-day period of abstinence and deprivation for Christians before Holy Week and Easter. Catholics often sacrifice something they crave, such as sweets. 

Quipped American conservative political commentator Jesse Lee Peterson: "What am I supposed to do, stay offline until Easter?"

Last year, Francis urged followers to give up gossip. The year before, he called on them to slow down in a fast-paced world.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pope Francis' Ash Wednesday message: Quit being online troll for Lent